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Exclusive interview with Francisco Igualada, Senior Mining Specialist, Energy and Extractive Industries (GEEDR) at the World Bank.  He is a featured speaker at DRC Mining Week in June, focusing on the “Importance of geoscience data and information to ensure a sustainable DRC mining sector”.

WORLD BANK INTERVIEW: “There is a need to have access to pre-competitive geoscience knowledge and geological mapping suitable to identify prospective areas for attracting investor interest”

1)      Let’s start with some background on your work at the World Bank?
Our work at the WB is very broad and we are basically supporting country reforms in order to render the mineral sector more attractive to investors and consequently boosting the economies of the countries that are requesting a loan. These loans are the vehicles for sustaining the country’s development as we are aiming at having fair conditions of repayment as well as to ensure that the right pace of legal, regulatory and economic reforms are creating the right environment ensuring transparency and good environmental and social practices.

2)      Any specific projects in the mining sector that the World Bank is involved in that you are particularly excited about?
Besides our critical involvement in DRC in support of the rationalization of the sector, I would like to mention my responsibility in managing our recently approved 150 million loan project for developing the Nigerian mineral sector and diversifying it from its dependency on other sectors like Oil & Gas. From the Bank’s side, I am really looking forward to contribute to transforming their potential resources into some tangible exploration and exploitation projects. In addition we have another very interesting initiative called the Billion dollar map of Africa or AMGI (African Mineral Geoscience Initiative) in which we are developing some pilot projects, supported by the Korean international cooperation. This project is rather difficult to take off and we are closely working in collaboration with the African Union Commission as well as United Nations Cartographic Section.

3)      What in your view are the main challenges to the African mining sector? And the DRC in particular?
The challenges are well known and they constitute the main barriers such as financing since investors lack access to exploration and capital financing and are consequently unable to carry out preliminary work that would attract foreign companies. Very often the lack of Geoscience data or (geo-data) is a blocking factor. There is a need to have access to pre-competitive geoscience knowledge and geological mapping suitable to identify prospective areas for attracting investor interest. This is very important as many junior and mid-tier mining companies are unaware of the full mineral prospectivity potential of a country, as a result of incomplete coverage of geological mapping, at the required scale, and associated geochemical and geophysical surveys.

In DRC, thanks to the development of PROMINES project we are undertaking such a fundamental geological work covering nearly 4% of DRC’s surface area. Of course, there are other challenging issues such as the availability of a digital mining cadaster that we have tackled as well through the development of the World Bank PROMINES project. Currently we are extending the DRC cadaster (CAMI) to other regions bringing more transparence and the principle of “first come first served”. This aspect coupled with the Mining Code are key factors for effectively attracting investors, besides its great DRC’s geological and metallogenical potential.

I would also like to mention other important challenges such as Infrastructure. In most African countries inadequate infrastructure for multi-sector planning such as roads, rails, and electric power supply to support exploration, mining, and mineral processing activities is a key blocking factor or challenge for developing the sector.  Moreover, investors cite inadequate master plans for water resource management, and this has become a limiting factor as well.  In DRC power supply to meet the increasing demands for mineral processing facilities has become a “determinant factor” impacting in taking the decision to exploit or not an ore deposit and such situation needs to be solved in a way that takes into account the interests and expectations of all stakeholders in a balanced and logical way.
Common to most African countries we also see the need to improve human resources skills and adequate geological & mining training. There is a shared need as well to enhance the Regulatory aspects that are often complex and cumbersome related to land acquisition, community relations, equipment importation and various types of issues affecting expatriates. Not less important are the challenges affecting mining sites in environmental, social and health related matters. The aspects related to use of land by artisanal and small scale miners (ASM) is very critical in order to avoid social problems. In summary Africa and DRC of course, are facing similar challenges though its intensity and preponderance have varying levels.

4)      What is your vision for the sector?
The mineral sector continues to present important levels of volatility, non-predictability (if I may use this word) not only linked to commodity prices but also related to geopolitical factors in a number of African countries. It is impossible to make some reliable predictions on how the sector will behave in the coming years.
However, from my own perspective, I see some signs of “slow recovery” that will be impregnating some specific commodities as some of them are starting to recover its cyclical trend. As far as other aspects of the sector, it is showing some gains in terms of legal or regulatory enhancements bringing more transparency, as well as more pre-competitive geological knowledge. Even if there is a difficult substitution/replacement in mine sites as no new large mines are in the pipeline so far. I wish I could have a crystal ball…

5)      Which African countries are doing the right things in your opinion?
It is interesting to note the example of Botswana, Namibia, Kenya and Morocco and of course the decisive efforts started by Nigeria in recent times. It is rather difficult to make comparisons as the situation evolves and often there is not much political continuity.

6)      You are a featured speaker at DRC Mining Week in June on the “Importance of geoscience data and information to ensure a sustainable DRC mining sector” – what will be your message at the event?
The message is quite simple and very straightforward though often forgotten. In other words “Without pushing pre competitive geoscience data there is little chance to attract serious investors in countries where geological potentialities are known to exist but no large corporations are present only junior exploration companies”. Moreover the quality of the data collected, processed and managed is equally important for a future sustainable mineral development.

7)      What are you most looking forward to at the event?
I really like to see a wide and serious audience of companies and mineral operators committed to the sustainable development of the sector in DRC. I would not like to see speculators taking the sector as a kind of “el dorado” without considering its real social and economic development value for the DRC population.

8)      Anything you would like to add?
I am sure the conference will be a success and I am really looking forward to the opening day for the benefit of DRC.

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