International mining day
3 December, 2020, 1:30 am
The mining and quarrying sector plays an essential role in supporting our society to overcome its greatest challenges such as providing the materials needed to construct ventilators to save lives during the current COVID-19 pandemic or supporting the fight against climate change by supplying raw materials needed to construct and innovate renewable energy technology.
This sector plays a fundamental role in the global economy by supplying the raw materials needed in society and is critical to almost all aspects of our lives, ranging from sourcing construction aggregates to building our homes, roads and workplaces, for supplying metals and minerals used to manufacturing important technology such as cars, computers and smartphones.
The Mining and Quarrying Council was established on January 26, 1996 under the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation, with a chairman who is elected by the council members annually.
Currently the council has 14 companies as its members and they are divided into two groups being either financial or non-financial members.
The financial members are Flame Tree Development (Fiji) Ltd, Aurum Exploration (Fiji) Ltd, Newcrest (Fiji) Ltd / Namosi Joint Venture, Dome Mines Ltd, Kalo Exploration Ltd, Magma Mines Ltd, Viti Mining Ltd (Melanesian Capital), Thunder Struck and Fiji Gas.
The non-financial members are Melanesian Capital, Akura Ltd, Vatukoula Gold Mine, Basic Industries Ltd and Gold Basin.
The council has become the voice of the industry supporting one of the growing areas of Fiji’s economy.
Members are invited to council meetings which occurs once every two months or when it is necessary to encourage and provide an excellent forum for networking, exchanging of views and experiences and also discussing various issues.
While companies in the sector vary in sizes, stage of operations, mineral interest (including ore grades), the industry operates in a global environment to address uncertainty in mineral demands, commodity prices and investors discontent.
The sector operates in a high-risk environment and involves intensive capital investment.
The council and member companies have consistently demonstrated the willingness to work with Government and other stakeholders in trying to improve the investment and the attractiveness of the industry in Fiji to cushion the global circumstances.
In all phases of development, the various companies provide assistance to the communities where they operate at various levels, including infrastructure developments, employment opportunities and educational scholarships.
Continuous consultations with communities and stakeholders are always vital for the operations to build trust, and educate the communities to understand exploration, mining and quarrying.
The council and its members fully understand the challenges and responsibilities now placed on the sector in terms of increased environmental regulations, social obligations and land use restrictions, and will closely work with the government and stakeholders to bring about a sustainable mining industry fi t for Fiji.
In addition to the mining of high-value minerals like gold and copper, the council also represents the interest of operators involved in the extraction and processing of development minerals such as sand, gravel, hard rock and clay used for construction materials, and limestone used for agricultural purposes.
Development minerals are minerals and materials that are mined, processed, manufactured and used domestically in industries such as construction, manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture.
Development minerals are particularly important for domestic development in Fiji with strong linkages to the local economy.
In 2018, the groundbreaking Baseline Assessment of Development Minerals in Fiji was launched, designed under phase 1 of the OACPS-EU Development Minerals Programme and performed by the Pacific Community (SPC), GEM Division.
Findings from the study indicate that the value of the sector is up to seven times larger than previously reported.
The corresponding gross output estimate for 2017 was between $190.3 million to $369.1m, which was substantially higher than the official Fiji Bureau of Statistics Gross Output record of $53.03m for that same year.
The study also includes strong evidence-based policy and law reform recommendations for the sector to enable it to better contribute to Fiji’s economy while also ensuring social and environmental sustainability.
The demand for development minerals is increasing, driven by the rapid urbanisation, infrastructure development and industrialisation in Fiji and the wider Pacific.
Fiji’s national development plan for the next five years requires a significant supply of these development minerals as the basis for large development and infrastructure projects in Fiji.
It is estimated that approximately 3,600,000 m³ of development minerals are extracted in Fiji each year, which equates to around 6.4 tons of development minerals consumed by each Fijian per year.
If you are wondering what 3,600,000 m³ looks like, next time you walk around the perimeter of Albert Park in Suva imagine a 50m deep hole over this area, that is approximately the volume of development minerals extracted in Fiji per year.
Fiji is also a key supplier of construction aggregates to other neighbouring Pacific Island countries which amplifies the demand for these development minerals and also the need for a more holistic and equitable regulatory framework.
However, these minerals have largely been outside of the reach of policymaking even though the sector is more labour absorptive, with higher impact on employment and poverty reduction compared with the more visible metals and high-value minerals.
In Fiji, development minerals play a particularly important role in the area of disaster risk reduction and climate resilience, whether it be providing the raw materials to build resilient infrastructure such as concrete evacuation centers for communities to shelter during cyclones, protecting coastlines which are susceptible to coastal erosion, or supplying the construction aggregates needed to “build back better” following devastating natural disasters such as Cyclone Winston.
It is clear that development minerals are critical to the resilience of the Fijian communities. The council welcomes the implementation of the second phase of the three-year OACPS-EU Development Minerals Programme being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the Ministry of Lands & Mineral Resources, as an important vehicle to support the government and private sector in enhancing the profile of development minerals, support capacity building of key stakeholders, promote gender inclusivity, and support important ongoing policy and law reforms for the sector.
A vibrant mining and quarrying industry with the support of Government and communities, can significantly contribute to the economic growth of Fiji and the improvement of the everyday lives of all Fijians.
* Netava Bakaniceva is the chairperson of the Mining Quarrying Council. The views expressed in this article are his own and does not necessarily represent the views of this newspaper.