Science and technology for development minerals. Meet Rosemary Okla, geological survey of Ghana
From an early age, Rosemary Okla, 40, wanted to be among the few women who set the pace in science and technology in her native country, Ghana. After earning a diploma in geological engineering at the University of Mines and Technology in Tarkwa, she pursued graduate studies in the applied sciences and geoinformatics in The Netherlands and Germany.
"You see few women in these fields. I wanted to pursue it because of my desire to do what men can do," says the mother of two. "I soon realized that there's too much travel to the field and I had no time for my family, so I got interested in GIS [Geographic Information Systems] which you can use as a geological engineer."
"I was very curious about the concept of 'Development Minerals' and what it means, particularly the idea that this has been a neglected sector," she explains. "In Ghana, there is more interest in high value metals (precious minerals), but there are booms and blasts, and blasts affect the country as a whole. But if we understand 'Development Minerals' better and invest in them, the country will withstand blasts better because it will have a secondary revenue."
Relying on domestic, ready markets helps small producers to be more resilient, as they do not depend on prices that can fluctuate sharply and suddenly. In addition, Development Minerals operations are major job creators in local communities. "There are too many minerals that we haven't explored in Ghana. They may not be high priced but they can make an impact in our country and I was inspired to find out how Development Minerals could create more jobs for more people," adds the geoinformatics specialist who is also a part-time lecturer at Radford University. "In Accra, we have salt, sand, clay, granite, gravel, slate. Some are mined in small operations, but if manual operators could have money to invest in equipment they could expand their operations and create more jobs for local populations."
Given the growing trend towards urbanization in the West African country, there is a steady demand for the Development Minerals widely available in the Accra area. "At the moment, people use artisanal methods, working often by hand, but if they get a crusher or simpler machinery, they will produce more and meet the demand."
After attending the workshop, Rosemary decided to use her skills to find out which Development Minerals are available in Ghana, and decided to start in Accra. With the help of her students, she visited about 20 areas in the wider metropolitan area to collect information on Development Minerals, existing operations and their impact on the environment. Rosemary and her team developed a set of maps now are available at the Geological Survey office.
"When I tell people about the need to invest in Development Minerals and the number of jobs that could result from this investment, they can hardly believe it. They always ask why we weren't aware of it?" reveals Rosemary. "I tell them that I also just found out but now want to be an advocate. I'm a convert and want to convert other people."
Women-led community enterprise and development minerals. Meet Natalie Mufalo, glow Zambia
Natalie Mufalo, 48, was born in Zambia and is founder of GLOW. After living many years in the UK and the US, she decided to return to her country of birth six years ago.
"I came back because I felt the need to give back to my country," said Natalie. "I live in a rural setting. You don't have to go far to see poverty and people working with clay. I felt drawn to the women who work with clay, they are marginalised and unrepresented. Women dig clay and make pots to sell with no long-term effect on their livelihoods. However, we can shift this paradigm with the right structures in place. There can be a whole industry developed around clay that can support construction, medicinal and the health industries."
Natalie attended Sharefair in Kenya, a three-day regional event about gender equality in the extractives industries, co-organised by the ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme with UN Women's East and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO). The event provided training and networking opportunities for 450 representatives from civil society, government, private operators and other groups, primarily from East and Southern Africa. There were also delegates from further afield, including donors, embassies, NGOs and other stakeholders.
"It was an eye opener. I learnt so much in a short space of time and accessed so much information. Up until then, I couldn't see how clay mining and making clay pots could make a difference to development," added Natalie. "I learned about advocacy work. I didn't know that you could talk to governments and others about this work. I got a lot, more than I had imagined. But most importantly, I came away realizing that we needed to strengthen processes that promote economic development of women in developmental mineral mining and thankfully, our new Mining Policy encourages local participation and promotion of the development of the mining industry that is integrated in the local economy. So I knew what I had to do."
Since Sharefair, Natalie has set up a four-person organisation that manages and coordinates the program. By providing training and basic clay mining tools to poor women in remote villages of the Chinkankanta area in southern Zambia. To date, they have supported 26 women clay miners, and they expect to reach up to 150 in a year's time. They aim to support the women miners develop their skills as artesian small scale miners with safer productive methods by introducing them to safer practices, tools and training.
"We want them to be self-reliant and make great products, so they can have an impact on their whole community." Natalie believes that this work can also curve gender violence and environmental degradation and improve the women's money management skills.
"When women get together other issues are raised, like gender violence. People are forced to marry their daughters when they're very young. HIV is also a big issue," said Natalie, explaining that these discussions can help introduce advice and support about other community development issues.
"There's a big concern about environmental issues. It is very painful to look at. They cut down trees for the kiln [oven] and charcoal. If they continue like this, in 20 years' time they will not be able to do this work anymore. We need to tackle this problem now" she added.
"Sharefair gave me a whole lot of energy for this labour of love. For the women we are training clay mining is a way of making a little bit of money out of mining and making clay pots, using a very old art that everyone in the village knows."
"There is so much potential in mineral mining. Women can drive changes in the local economy, if we support them,” adds Natalie. For example, bentonite clay [a type of clay found in Zambia’s southern provinces] is used in the health and beauty industry which can open many opportunities for small women-led enterprises.
International policy for development minerals. Meet Caroline Ngonze, development minerals programme
Born in Kenya, Caroline Ngonze is an international civil servant committed to sustainable development. Her years of experience working in the international aid and development system have convinced her that economic empowerment – particularly that of women – is the key to poverty eradication, gender equality and inclusive economic growth.
"My work brought me face-to-face with stark poverty in the communities I was working with, where life was literally about hand-to-mouth survival. But what stood out the most for me was the fact that once a household – particularly those headed by women – had some form of economic autonomy thanks to an activity that yields an income, however small, there was a visible improvement in that household and its extended family", says Caroline.
As a UN staffer focusing on development in Africa, Caroline knew that many African policy frameworks were looking to harness the extractives industries to power economic growth, such as the Africa Mining Vision and the African Union's Agenda 2063.
"These initiatives left me pondering about women in the extractives sector and, soon enough, an opportunity to work on artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in the context of the African Mining Vision appeared," she recalls. Caroline led a programme of research and analysis of the situation of women involved in ASM in Ghana, Guinea (Conakry), Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
"Interacting with women working in this sector was a complete eye-opener. I spoke to women who owned mines, but had to borrow money to travel to a meeting or workshop and women who were conned-off hard earned proceeds from mining by unscrupulous middle-men," reflects the mother of three young children. "There were also women who had to keep gangs of men away from their mining concessions. These men assumed a site belonging to a woman could be invaded without resistance."
However, Caroline recalls the optimism of the women miners, which confirmed in her own mind that the ASM sector has a great potential to improve livelihoods, if the right polices, practices and sector support were made available. She joined the ACP-EU Development Minerals programme precisely to help unlock this potential.
"I knew that there was a huge demand for construction materials and dimension stones due to the construction boom in most African cities, but I did not know that sand and gravel bring in economic returns four times those of gold or even copper," explains Caroline, adding that these economic gains include employment generation and poverty reduction.
The ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme is a capacity-building programme working to ensure that all stakeholders – miners, governments and civil society – are able to make the most of the sector's potential. The programme sponsors participants to attend trainings in a range of subjects and, in turn, they develop 'return-to-work' plans. These outline how they intend to apply the knowledge and skills gained.
"It's very inspiring to see what people come up with. We have an alumnus using cobblestones to pave rural roads in Madagascar, which improves access during the rainy season and keeps marginalized communities food secure. Others are mapping Development Minerals in Ghana, so they are included in geo-data inventories. And others are tripling incomes of poor communities in Zambia by improving the use of clay and bricks in women-led micro-enterprises," adds Caroline who is also pursuing a doctoral degree in public policy.
"These tangible changes that improve livelihoods are very gratifying. As someone recently said 'Forget China and India, women are the next big thing'," she concludes.
The ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme is an initiative of African, Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Group of States, coordinated by the ACP Secretariat, financed by the European Commission and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by UNDP. This 3-year, €13.1 million capacity building program aims to build the profile and improve the management of Development Minerals in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The sector includes the mining of industrial minerals, construction materials, dimension stones and semi-precious stones.