Burkina Faso’s gold reserves
In recent years there has been a marked upsurge in Burkina Faso’s gold production, fostering hopes that this very poor, landlocked West Africa nation is finally on the road to greater economic prosperity.
There have been many positive developments this century concerning the country’s gold mining sector, starting with the privatisation of state-controlled industries and new pro-mining, investor-friendly legislation. Consequently there has been an increase in both gold exploration and production. Since the 2003 Mining Act over 30 companies have undertaken exploration activities, and national gold production doubled between 2009 and 2010.
In 2012 Burkina Faso could lay claim to being Africa’s fourth largest gold producer and third largest exploration site.
The promise of gold
Burkina Faso, or Burkina for short, is a relatively flat country endowed with few natural resources. Roughly 90 percent of Burkinabe exist on subsistence farming, a problematic situation given the country’s propensity for drought. Two of Burkina’s economic mainstays are its cotton and gold, with gold the biggest source of export revenue since 2009.
Burkina has rich deposits of gold, lying as it does on West Africa’s prodigious Greenstone belt. Burkina comprises 21 percent of that belt, which extends into neighbouring Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire. Mines are to be found throughout the north, central, west and southwest regions of the country.
According to the Ministry of Finance, gold production in Burkina shot up from 12.2 tonnes in 2009 to 32.5 tonnes in 2011. In 2011 the industry generated 127 billion CFA (or $277 million).
Some of the mines with the largest known deposits at present are Mana (200km from the capital city of Ouagadougou, this is the country’s largest mine, owned by SEMAFO; it produced nearly 114.900 oz. between January and September 2009), Essakane (owned by iamgold, it is estimated to have 57 Mt of ore reserves), and Kiaka (owned by Volta Resources and believed to contain 5 Mt).[i] The Government of Burkina owns 10 percent interest in all gold mining companies.
The problem of child labour
In 2012 the National Institute for Statistics and Demography announced that a recent study showed a range of children, some as young as six years, were skipping school to work in the mines or using their off-school days of Thursday and Saturday to work there. The lure of wages and/or pressure from parents to earn money has started a worrying trend, one which the Government and others are working to curb.
Moussa Ouedraogo, a director for the Ministry for National Education and Literacy, claimed that 900 children in the country’s northern region missed writing their exams in 2012 to work in the mines and that 3,300 worked there on off-school days. Most of these children are working in small artisanal mines, doing manual labour such as carrying water, crushing stones, and sieving dirt. In return they are given a third of the value of their findings.[ii]
So while one could say that the mining boom is an economic boon, the social and long-term economic effects could be detrimental and consequently a concerted effort is required on the part of all stakeholders to remedy the situation.
Burkina currently has the fastest growing gold economy in Africa, with many factors besides to recommend it. Costs are low. The flat savannah landscape makes exploration easy. The country is underexplored and its gold deposits as yet largely untapped. The political environment is considered reasonably stable, and the legislative framework enacted in the early 2000s has established a relatively transparent business environment conducive to increased investments.
In almost every aspect Burkina’s upstream potential continues to receive favourable reports from all quarters. The country’s vast stores of gold are clearly waiting to be transformed into money.
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