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A plan to precisely map out mineral resources

Article - May 12, 2015

In its efforts to diversify beyond gems, under Planageo, Angola is conducting geophysical surveys to improve precision and certainty in locating mineral resources

For years Angola’s mining industry, which currently contributes around 5% to GDP, has focused on the exploration and extraction of diamonds. The government aims to attract investment in the exploitation of other mineral resources in order to diversify an economy heavily dependent on oil and diamond exports and to create more jobs.

“We want to make Angola a mining country,” says Minister for Geology and Mines Francisco Queiróz. “We have the natural set of circumstances to compete with the oil sector in terms of collectable revenue, and of actually surpassing the oil sector with regards to job creation, for which mining has a greater potential.”

Aside from diamonds, Angola currently produces cement, granite, gypsum, marble and salt. The cement market has enjoyed four years of double-digit growth on the back of the country’s construction boom. In January, the government banned the import of cement as it claims that local production was now adequate to meet national demand. Gypsum production, which was around 200,000 tons a year in 2011 (latest figures available), also supports the local construction industry, as well as agriculture, since it used to make cement and fertilizer.

The country has several other undeveloped mineral resources. These include copper, gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, phosphate rock, quartz, and silver. In 2011 a new Mining Code was established to attract foreign investment and boost exploration for diamonds and these other undeveloped minerals.

There is no doubt that the country has a rich and vast territory, with attractive mining potential. But what has held investors back in the exploitation of these undeveloped mineral resources is lack of adequate geological information, which makes exploration too high-risk.

To address this, the Geological Institute of Angola (IGEO) established the National Geology Plan (Planageo). Launched in 2013, Planageo will conduct geo-physical analysis that will give a better understanding of the location and quantities of mineral deposits. The information collected by Planageo will be available, in addition to state agencies, to potential investors, academics and other interested parties. Aside from encouraging investment by facilitating prospecting, the geological data will be used to manage the rational and sustainable exploitation of minerals. The plan will take five years to conclude at a cost of $410 million. It is envisioned that this investment will help to boost revenues in the mining, encourage private investments and create more jobs.

“This survey will be carried out with the latest technology. It will be a thorough radiography of the location of all the geological resources available to us. This will provide potential investors with well-founded information they can use when it comes time to decide whether they would like to invest,” says Mr. Queiróz, while Diogo do Carvalho of the Diamonds Association of African Countries (ADPA) explains that Planageo will allow investors “to better apply their financial resources with greater precision and certainty of an expected profit.”

Under Planageo, aero-geophysical surveys will be conducted using special planes fitted out with radiography equipment that can gather information about mineral resources up to a depth of 300 meters. In order to carry out the surveys, Angola has been split into three areas. Planes have been provided by three private service providers, CITIC (China), Impulso (Spain) and Costa Negócios (Brazil), each of whom are concessionaires and will be responsible for surveying one of the three areas. 

The inaugural flight took off in May 2014 in Luanda province, which is under the responsibility of CITIC. In June, Costa Negocio began flights in Area 2, which comprises the diamond-producing provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul. June also saw Impulso’s two planes take off in the southern region. Following the aerial surveys, rock and soil samples will be taken from potential deposit sites.

However, geological data collection is only one part of this comprehensive plan. Planageo also covers the building of centers for analysis and the hiring and training of high-skilled local staff to perform data collection and analysis. In Luanda, new geochemistry laboratories and a new headquarters and central laboratory for the IGEO are being built, along with regional IGEO departments in Huíla and Lunda Sul provinces. These laboratories will be responsible for evaluating the data gathered by CITIC, Impulso and Costa Negocios, and samples taken from geologists on the ground in order to form a detailed mineral map of each region.

Planageo is training hundreds of Angolan nationals to work in laboratories and on data collection. According to Mr. Queiróz, 276 senior staff will be hired by 2018, 148 of which under contract with Planageo service providers. There are also initiatives to strengthen the capacity of the IGEO, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency providing training for personnel of the institute in a two-year programme in 2012-2013.

Angola’s vast mineral potential is certain, but lack of extensive geological data has deterred mining companies from exploring this unknown frontier. Once Planageo is completed in 2017, investors will be given a clear picture of Angola’s mineral landscape, which should lead to an influx of investment that will put Angola on course to becoming one of the world’s mining superpowers.