There have been several changes globally as well as in West Africa’s mining industry, with the industry steadily embracing a more sustainable approach to mining, highlights SRK associate partner principal resource geologist and country manager Ivan Doku.
Previously, mining in the region was largely dominated by majors and midtier mining companies, and SRK’s focus was on providing geotechnical services for large projects.
Although major players are still active in the region, there has been a shift towards smaller firms entering West African mining industries, owed, in part, to many governments in the region seeking to formalise small-scale mining, says Doku.
He adds that many of the relatively easy and large exploration targets in Ghana, for instance, have been well explored and mined. Consequently, there is growing scope for companies that are geared towards exploring and exploiting smaller footprints with relative ease.
There has also been greater emphasis on promoting local ownership and involvement in the West African mining sector, notes Doku.
This has encouraged a trend where local firms are looking for partnerships with better- resourced, foreign companies or financial institutions to assist with or support more exploration and mining projects.
“This is creating opportunities for companies, such as SRK Consulting, to bring more of our technical, environmental, and social expertise to the region.”
Doku adds that many of these smaller projects are, for instance, looking for innovative solutions to conduct affordable exploration programmes that will meet the high technical standards set by international best practice and provide the necessary confidence for potential investors or partners.
“Our familiarity with the various Mineral Resource and Reserve codes – combined with our local knowledge of West Africa and our experienced professionals across the mining project cycle – puts us in a good position to advise clients.”
Further, the evolution of digital technologies in mining has supported SRK’s work in the region, enhancing in-house and external collaboration.
He points out that communication technology has been particularly useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, enabling the company to continue providing services even when travel was restricted.
“We are also getting better at gathering data remotely, which can be accessed for analysis by our professionals anywhere.”
This particular change is improving the cooperation between SRK’s Accra office, in Ghana, and its network of partners in the West African region, highlights Doku.
Moreover, SRK looks forward to continuing to develop local expertise at its Accra office while growing its range of services in line with the industry’s demands – particularly in resource geology, mining and environmental disciplines.
This goal is likely to necessitate SRK’s developing or introducing innovative means of progressing exploration projects for smaller deposits and/or small-scale miners. This presents an exciting opportunity for the region to realise its mineral wealth potential while empowering local players and creating value in the local economy.
There is also scope to explore how local procurement can be supported to ensure that the benefits of mining are embedded and experienced in local economies, he says.
Doku elaborates that the company has had an office in Ghana for the past decade and has always prioritised the application of locally based knowledge and expertise that is supported by SRK’s global network of experienced professionals.
“This has meant that our Accra office has always been staffed by local professionals who work extensively with other local experts in addition to their SRK colleagues through the global network.”
He adds that this approach intensified and evolved during the pandemic, as strict travel restrictions compelled SRK Ghana to step in on projects in the region that originated from the global office.
Programmes for Development
SRK values the chance to develop the young people in its ranks, states Doku, adding that amid rapid technological advances, there is a growing need to combine the aptitudes and vision of young engineers with the experience and insights of established experts.
“The full benefit of skills transfer is realised when young engineers and scientists are allowed to shadow experienced consultants on project site visits.”
SRK Ghana is at the phase where young engineers will be drawn into multidisciplinary projects to acquire new skills under the leadership of experienced consultants.
“It will come at a cost to SRK, but it is an important long-term investment. These opportunities will open doors for developing greater self-reliance and growth in the West African mining industry.”
Doku points out that, while operational skills are the foundation for keeping mines running, there is a great need for broadening the experience of local engineers so that they can play a consulting role, consequently providing in-depth independent studies and advice for mines and projects.
“We take an active approach to engaging young professionals in SRK Consulting and provide the support they need to develop as professionals within the organisation and the broader industries in which they serve.”
This ranges from encouraging them in their studies to getting them involved in industry organisations – such as the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and its young engineers programme, he concludes.