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A mining exploration project in Central Africa was running into difficulty: the promised jobs were not materialising, and the companies involved needed to make a new business case to keep the affected communities onside.
“It is very difficult on an exploration budget to provide meaningful assistance to communities,” Daniel Limpitlaw of Limpitlaw Consulting said at a side event to the Mining Indaba 2019 on the issue of miners earning their “social licence.”
The question Limpitlaw needed to address was how to “make a lasting difference” to the local communities within the constraints of an exploration budget. One unusual problem presented itself which had a surprising and low-cost solution: human/wildlife conflict.
Limpitlaw explained that ivory poaching in the area was driving elephants out of the forest and into cultivated fields, where they were destroying crops, including the staple cassava.
The low-cost solution? Provide the villagers with hives and show them how to manage them and harvest honey.
“The added advantage was that if you put them around the periphery area of the fields, you know longer have a massive problem with elephants …. Simple things can make a real, lasting difference,” Limpitlaw said.
The issue of social licences in the mining industry, especially in the African context, have been increasingly grabbing the attention of investors, not least because of the potential for social unrest.
In South Africa, where companies must adhere to social and labour plans to maintain their mining rights, Tebello Chabana, senior executive for transformation at the Minerals Council, said such plans often failed to address what the communities themselves wanted.
“Mining companies have to up their game in terms of engaging with communities,” he said.
This all has a material impact – a South African mining company can go years without paying dividends to investors during lean times, but must commit capital to social and labour plans.
And maybe there are lessons to be drawn from the Central African elephant experience outlined by Limpitlaw – small initiatives can go a long way to take the sting out of the hardships endured by the rural poor in Africa.