Interview of Dr Fuh Calistus Gentry, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Industries, Mines qnd Technological Development and Chairman of the organising committee of CIMEC 2013.
What does the country stand to benefit from the just-ended Yaounde International Mining Conference?
Cameroon is fast becoming a leader on the African mining scene. It is our intention to make the conference an annual event where people meet mining officials, discuss and get their projects going. We are trying to make Cameroon a centre of excellence for negotiating mining business in Africa and the first call has been impressive.
The mining sector is still in infancy. What was concretely proposed to boost it?
What has delayed the maturity of our projects is the lack of relevant industries associated with mining such as laboratories and drilling companies. When you send a sample to Ireland, it takes four months to get the results whereas if that laboratory was set up in the country, like in Ghana, you only need 48 hours to get the results. The conference brought all these companies together to discuss for three days and I think it was exciting.
Concretely, what do we have in terms of mineral resources that would warrant such a high-level confab?
Take bauxite, in the whole of Africa in terms of reserves, we have 1.1 billion tonnes in Ngaoundere/Ngaoundal in the Adamawa Region, about 50 million tonnes in Fongo Tongo. For iron Ore in Mbalam in the East Region, we have over 4.5 billion tonnes of low grade ore and for Direct Shipping Ore (DSO). This is rich iron ore that is exported immediately after mining. You do not need to treat it. There, we have over 250 million tonnes. Just from Mbalam to Kribi on where we are developing an infrastructure corridor for Central Africa, we have four other deposits along the railway. We have Nkout deposit, Ngoveyang, Mammel de Kribi and we have iron ore just 100 km from Kribi with other findings still going on. That forms the first iron ore belt in Africa which is transcending many countries.
There is also dotted iron ore in the North West. The reserves are enormous and Cameroon can boost over 10 billion tonnes of known reserves in these different fields. This should add to the gold we have in the East, uranium, cobalt/nickel deposits in Lomie which is the largest lateritic cobalt deposit in the world. That is why we need to take this position of leader and make Cameroon by its very nature a bridge between West and Central Africa and its bilingual nature to create a centre of excellence for mining negotiations in Africa.
One of the recommendations of the just-ended conference was for environmental concerns to be considered in all mining projects. How is this going to be done?
For every mining project, there is a feasibility study and an environmental impact study. Suppose gold is discovered somewhere, we ask if it is going to impact 100 times the Gross Domestic Product of the country. We will ask what the impact is. Is it necessary to displace that town from where it is based on the huge reserves that would change the fortunes of our country for a hundred years?
Impact is not only about preserving the environment; it is about the necessity of the project. We had a number of environmental, companies in the conference. We are also encouraging Cameroonians to set up environmental consultancies. The mining industry has come to stay and the procedures are well-defined. You must have an environmental impact study before you start negotiating for a mining convention.