Image: Mining Technology
Mauritania is a leading producer of iron ore, as well as copper, gold and silver. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) notes that the mining sector – which is a core component of the Mauritanian economy – contributes 59% to exports, 9.6% to GDP, and 10.4% to the Mauritanian government’s revenue. Mauritania is in fact one of the very first countries in francophone Africa to implement the EITI. Over a decade of implementation, Mauritania’s EITI has established itself as one of the country’s core instruments to support reforms in fiscal transparency and governance of the extractive industries.
In spite of the challenges posed to the country’s economy by the COVID-19 pandemic which had a serious effect on the non-extractive industries like transportation, trade and the fishing sector, mining sector production actually increased by 2.2% in the first half of 2021 on the back of strong global demand for iron ore and gold, as well as continued investment in extractive capacity.
Diversification and Local Value Addition
A large share of the mining activity has been primarily focused on the extraction of iron and other metal ores such as gold. This has left the economy vulnerable to severe fluctuations in global prices for mineral commodities. An equally pressing challenge is that too often much of Mauritania’s mineral production is exported directly abroad and not actually processed within the country, thus preventing greater local value addition and more broadly supporting Mauritania´s long-term economic development and poverty alleviation goals.
To address these issues, the government of Mauritania and international development partners like Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development are pursuing a path to promote a greater diversification of the mining sector and the establishment of value chains within Mauritania. This is being done by placing more of an emphasis on non-metallic commodities like limestone or various types of clay for construction materials, phosphates, and industrial minerals.
One of the main players in Mauritania´s mining sector is the National Industrial and Mining Company (SNIM). Today SNIM is the second largest African producer of iron ore and an important contributor to Mauritania´s economy. Most of the iron ore produced by SNIM is sent to the Port of Nouadhibou, which allows the company to transport its iron ore. However, one of the challenges is that the depth currently available in the access channel limits the size of the vessels that can anchor in the ore terminal. Ships that can dock at the current terminal account for only 6% of the world’s available bulk carrier fleet, thus increasing costs due to limited availability.
In order to mitigate this challenge, The African Development Bank Group, in partnership with the European Investment Bank (EIB), has concluded financing of $50 million and €50 million respectively, over 12 years with SNIM, to support the capacity increase of the port facilities of the SNIM in Nouadhibou, the economic capital of Mauritania. The project includes the deepening and widening of access channels of the mineral terminal of SNIM over 25km, with the aim of reaching the required depths of 230,000 tons of ships. By allowing larger vessels to dock in Nouadhibou, SNIM will maximize the efficiency of its transport chain while reducing costs, becoming more profitable, as well as more competitive in international markets, especially in terms of offsetting potential fluctuations in world iron ore prices.
In addition to the local champion SNIM, there are a number of large international mining companies with substantial operations in Mauritania. One such company is First Quantum Minerals Ltd., a growing mining and metals company, which is engaged in mineral exploration, development and mining in Africa. Quantum’s shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in Canada, the London Stock Exchange in the United Kingdom, and the company is a member of the S&P/TSX 60 index. In Mauritania, First Quantum operates the Guelb Moghrein copper-gold mine. The Guelb Moghrein deposit is located 250 kilometers northeast of the capital, Nouakchott, near the town of Akjoujt. First Quantum produces LME grade A copper cathode, copper in concentrate, and gold from this project.
Another key international player in Mauritania’s mining industry is Canadian mining giant Kinross which has a world-class gold deposit – the Tasiast gold mine – one of the largest in Africa, which is located 300km north of the capital. In 2019, Kinross announced commitment for a $300mn fundraising round and noted that it was proof of the company’s desire to remain in Mauritania for the long term. The Tasiat mine required the construction of very heavy infrastructure and the building of a mining city in the desert. The first few years were thus devoted to earthworks and preparation for operations. But today, the Tasiat mine has one of the biggest gold mills in Africa and a crusher with a large capacity. The company believes that a production target of 20,000 tons is within reach.
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