“Put African interests first” say African natural resources experts

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“Put African interests first” say African natural resources experts

The African Natural Resources Centre of the African Development Bank recently convened an expert group meeting of gold and timber professionals from across the continent. Meeting at the Bank’s Abidjan headquarters last week, the expert group reviewed two draft reports commissioned by the Centre on the gold and timber value chains.

Over two days of focused deliberations, the experts discussed ways in which African gold and timber producing countries can add and maximise value from these two commodities to promote industrialisation, job creation and inclusive socio-economic development.

A major crosscutting theme was competitiveness, as participants agreed that African gold and timber producers needed to be far more competitive than they currently are. “It is of vital importance that African countries play to their competitive advantage and be competitive globally,” said Roman Grynberg, professor of economics of the University of Namibia, and author of the draft gold value chain report. “We must put Africa first, and we must impress on the continent’s leaders and policy-makers to do the right thing for Africa,” he added.

There was agreement that African countries should apply the same rigorous international standards domestically to improve governance.

The environmental impact of gold mining received considerable attention, given that pollution continues to be a major concern for people living in proximity of gold mining areas. Mercury, for example, is used to separate gold from veined ore rock during the beneficiation process. Mercury is also a major source of environmental pollution. The experts agreed that it would be desirable to promote alternatives to mercury use, especially in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Various gravity concentration methods were discussed, as substitutes to mercury.

In the timber sector, the experts looked favourably at the pursuit of long-term financial mechanisms, including climate financing across landscapes in Africa. Other recommendations included building capacity; establishing clear management guidelines to ensure good governance; mitigating risk; and addressing land tenure issues.

The timber experts also recommended stronger support for small-scale tree growers. “Our small-scale growers are at the heart of the industry, and we must support them and help grow their capacity,” said Willy Kakuru, professor of environment and natural resources at Uganda’s Makerere University,” who authored the draft timber value chain report.

The experts encouraged the promotion of public-private partnerships in the plantation forestry value chain. They favoured improved marketing, better provision of storage facilities, and  standardisation and branding of timber products. They also called for improved networking and collective action among tree growers, as well as  clamping down by local authorities on illegality.

For both sectors, greater regional cooperation was found to be crucial in order to share information, infrastructure and knowledge, thus collectively building capacity regionally, and creating employment locally. The experts also agreed that regional cooperation could help countries address the harmful effects of tax competition, attract investment and reduce illicit commodity trading.

Relevant to both gold and timber, the experts recommended that there be clear strategies on the creation of forward and backward linkages. The former are created when investment in a particular project encourages investment in subsequent stages of production, while backward linkages occur when a project encourages the growth of local industries to supply goods and services.

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