Transforming the face of mineral exploration in Madagascar

When Madagascar first discovered gold and graphite ore, mineral exploration became a profitable undertaking for private companies in the island nation. The discovery wasn’t all good fortune, however. New challenges emerged for local populations, including pollution affecting river water users and the need to build technical skills so locals weren’t excluded from work opportunities.

Carles Tatafasa, a Geologist Engineer specialising in hydrology at the Ministry of Environment and Forests, decided to take on this multi-layered challenge. His mission as a collaborator in the Ministry was to tackle legal loopholes in the mining sector, to hold companies accountable for their environmental degradation, and for not sourcing the bulk of labour locally.

Carles identified the legal challenges with enforcing mutual benefit practices on private mining companies. He wanted to create lasting solutions but realised he had a knowledge-gap preventing him from doing so. With this in mind, Carles applied for and was awarded to attend the Local Economic and Social Development in Extractives short course in 2015, funded by the Australian Government.

During the course, Carles learned that Madagascar’s challenges were not unique. Other countries struggled too. Carles also learned how countries with more experience in mineral exploration tackled the issues Madagascar was facing. He took his new knowledge and ideas home, inspired to support his employer to tackle the challenges affecting locals and their environment.

Once back in Madagascar, Carles began sharing his knowledge with the Ministry’s Technical Evaluation Committee, responsible for advising local authorities, including in the areas of social and economic impact and laws of project implementation. He focused on ensuring local recruitment and training would become a priority and that building social and economic infrastructure would improve lives. The ultimate goal was for mining projects to generate tangible benefits for everyone, not just big mining companies.

The local authorities— which lacked the knowledge and confidence to demand anything from the mining companies—became more confident. They better understood the global context with similar mining projects and learned evidence about how other countries dealt with issues. This broadened their understanding of what mineral exploration could achieve across multiple facets of development in Madagascar.

Carles has since seen positive change with all stakeholders involved in the Project Impact Assessment moving in the same direction, believing in the essential need to have all parties benefiting from mining projects.

Carles has also been able to interact and share his knowledge, from the short course, with the Australia Awards Alumni network in Madagascar through meetings and Mining Governance Workshops.

Carles’ efforts have shifted perspectives, resulting in a responsible approach to implementing new extractive projects. Locals and government now share the expectation that all new projects contribute to improving local infrastructure while raising local competency through training and sustaining the environment. Mining companies are beginning to incorporate these expectations in their policy documents.

On a personal level, Carles was promoted in part because of the knowledge and confidence he built during the Australian Government-funded course. He says he is proud of his achievements but knows there is more work ahead to raise literacy levels in Madagascar. While realistic with his outlook on development, Carles believes that changing attitudes towards literacy and development in Madagascar will do more to improve the capacity of Malagasy people go well beyond anything mining companies achieve in the region.

Photo: Carles Tatafasa’s goal is for mining projects to generate tangible benefits for everyone.

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