With potentially significant untapped resources and the government committed to making mining a key pillar of growth for the economy, Côte d’Ivoire’s extractive minerals sector looks set for robust growth. Gold, nickel, bauxite, diamonds, manganese, columbite and tantalite are already in production, and Côte d’Ivoire’s miners are ready to become key players in the country’s drive towards economic diversification.
Under the National Development Plan (Plan National de Développement, PND) 2021-25, the government aims to increase the mining sector’s share of GDP from around 3% in 2022 to 5% in 2023 and 6% by 2025. It also targets an increase in gold production from 38.6 tonnes in 2019 to 40.5 tonnes by 2025.
Though the sector continues to expand, challenges remain. The country’s mining code, introduced in 2014, has left debate over the relationship between miners and local communities, while the industry also seeks to boost local content. Like many other mining countries, striking a balance between environmental sustainability and profitable exploitation is still a complex issue. Further steps to formalise the sector are also being taken, along with efforts to ensure a more equitable distribution of its rewards (see analysis).
Despite these challenges, the sector continues to show robust growth after emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic with little break in production. The sector is well placed for expansion, both in underdeveloped regions and areas that have been previously explored.
Structure & Oversight
The main government body responsible for overseeing and regulating the sector is the Ministry of Mines, Petroleum and Energy (Ministère des Mines, du Pétrole et de l’ Energie (MMPE), which was created in April 2022 with a merger of the Ministry of Mines and Geology (MMG) and the Ministry of Petroleum, Energy and Renewable Energy. The government-owned operator, Société pour le Developpement Minier (SODEMI), is charged with overseeing all prospecting and exploration activities, and is also itself a major participant in many of the country’s mining projects.
The mining code of 2014 is the main legal framework governing the industry. The code stabilised tax and Customs regimes relating to mining, introduced greater transparency in permit allocation procedures and extended the maximum exploration period from three to four years. It also reduced the maximum size of an exploration concession from 1000 sq km to 400 sq km. Additionally, the mining code introduced international arbitration for dispute resolution.
Several major international mining firms are active in Côte d’Ivoire, including Canada’s Barrick (previously RandGold Resources), which operates the northern Tongon gold mine; exploration company Red Rock Resources, which works through local subsidiary LacGold Resources; French-Canadian Foraco International; Canada’s Fortuna Silver Mines, which operates in the Séguéla gold project and purchased fellow local player Roxgold in 2021; Australia-headquartered Perseus Mining, which operates the Sissingué and Yaouré gold mines; and Endeavour, which acquired Teranga Gold in 2021. Through this acquisition Endeavour took over management of a Teranga-Sodim joint venture, the Afema exploration project in south-eastern Côte d’Ivoire. The company also owns an 85% stake in the Société Minière d’Ity (SMI), which runs the Ity gold mine – the country’s oldest – near the border with Liberia. In March 2021 Endeavour sold its interest in the Agbaou mine to Allied Gold, which in turn owns the nearby Bonikro mine.
Australian exploration company Atlantic Lithium, formerly IronRidge Resources, also began drilling in the Kineta North licence in the north-east of the country in 2021. The company acquired local miner Major Star in 2020, which also has a technical partnership with All Africa Mineral Explorer (AAME).
Many of the country’s miners, however, fall into the artisanal and small-scale miner (ASM) category. Small-scale operators are active in the mining of a range of minerals, including precious metals and stones such as gold, silver and diamonds, as well as base metals like nickel and manganese. Many of Côte d’Ivoire’s ASMs operate informally, and illegal activity remains an issue. There were around 240 illegal gold mines in the country as of 2020, according to the EU. The government has sought to combat this by creating a special police force to counter illegal mining activity, which uses satellite and drone technology to identify potential violations. There have also been efforts to encourage legal small-scale mining activity by supporting ASMs and promoting sustainable practices.
International agencies have also been supporting Côte d’Ivoire in developing traceable supply chains. The EU’s Just Gold project, for example, announced its first successes in ensuring traceability from the point of production in the country in November 2020.
Performance & Size
Côte d’Ivoire’s mining industry has continued to expand despite the disruption caused by the pandemic. According to government data, the sector’s annual turnover in 2020 reached CFA998.8bn ($1.7bn), up nearly 30% from CFA762bn ($1.3bn) in 2019. The ministry estimated that the sector generated CFA1.1trn ($1.9bn) in turnover in 2021. This was supported by the commencement of production at the Yaouré gold mine, the opening of new quarries and output at the Issia mine. The ministry estimated that a total CFA500bn ($859.5m) was invested in the country’s mining sector in 2021.
According to government figures, industrial gold production was set to reach 45 tonnes in 2021, up from 38.3 tonnes in 2020. The ministry projects that output will reach 52 tonnes in 2022 and 60 tonnes in 2023 as the Floleu and Zoukougbeau mines enter production. The most recent government figures also noted that ASMs produced 253.5kg of gold in 2020.
Though mining operations were impacted by the pandemic and the global economic downturn, production has continued to expand. Players in the sector also sought to address potential health risks to miners so they could safely return to work. “Today, sanitary conditions are extremely well regulated and are strictly followed by all market operators,” Nouho Koné, mining sector expert and member of the Professional Miners Association of Côte d’Ivoire (Groupement Professionnel des Miniers de Côte d’Ivoire, GPMCi), an employers’ association, told OBG.
The economic downturn worked in the gold market’s favour in some ways, as a flight to safety pushed up precious metal prices. In March 2020 international gold prices averaged $1590 per fine ounce. This had risen to $1970 by August of that year.
The country’s gold industry has also benefitted from the expansion of the Ity mining complex in 2020 and the opening of the Séguéla and Daloa mines in 2021. According to Jean-Claude Diplo, president of the GPMCi, four more gold mines are scheduled to commence production in 2025 and 2026, ensuring a continuous expansion of the country’s gold production.
As of the end of 2020 the country had four operational manganese mines — Bondoukou, Guitry, Kaniasso and Lagnonkaha — as well as one nickel producing region in the Biankouma-Touba area and one operational bauxite mine at Bénéné.
Manganese production is estimated to reach 1.45m tonnes in 2021, up from 1.3m tonnes in 2020. In spite of the disruption caused by the pandemic, the country managed to exceed its forecast output of 1.25m tonnes in 2020. According to international media, Côte d’Ivoire ranked eighth in the world’s top-10 manganese producers in 2022, up from ninth place in 2021. China’s steel industry is one of the country’s main customers, while manganese’s importance in electric vehicle production is now also driving the industry worldwide. The government forecasts that the country’s manganese production will increase to approximately 1.6m tonnes in 2022 and 1.75m tonnes in 2023.
Nickel has also become an increasingly vital commodity as the global energy transition picks up pace. According to official estimates, production of the metal reached 1.5m tonnes in 2021, up from 1.4m in 2020. As a result of efforts to make extraction, transportation and loading of nickel ore more efficient, production has more than doubled from 660,000 tonnes in 2019. It is forecast to reach 1.6m tonnes in 2022 and 1.8m tonnes in 2023. Nickel production is currently dominated by the Foungouesso and Moyango open cast mines in the Biankouma-Touba region, operated by Compagnie Miniére du Bafing (CMB), and the Sipilou North licence, held by CMB’s sister company Nickel de l’Ouest Côte d’Ivoire. A further project is currently underway at Samapleu, carried out by SODEMI’s Sama Resources.
The bauxite mine began production in 2020. Bauxite production is estimated to have reached 1.7m tonnes in 2021, up from 272,300 tonnes the previous year. Output was disrupted in 2020 after the country’s bauxite mine temporarily halted activity in October 2020, after becoming a focus for civil disturbances around the presidential elections being held that month. The mine was reopened in December of that year, however, with the operator, Lagune Exploitation Bongouanou, announcing plans at the time to boost production to 2m tonnes between 2020 and 2022.
According to the Kimberley Process, an initiative established in 2003 to prevent conflict diamonds entering the international market, Côte d’Ivoire’s diamond output has risen rapidly since the UN removed sanctions on Ivorian diamond exports in 2014. Production of rough diamonds increased from 1074 carats in 2014 to a peak of 20,200 carats in 2016. Although it fell to 4020 carats in 2020, in 2021 output was estimated at 5000 carats. The MMPE anticipates that production will increase to 5500 carats in 2022 and decrease to 5100 carats in 2023. Although output has increased, the industry’s export value fell from $1m in 2019 to $602,550 in 2020 as global diamond prices took a hit amid the pandemic. In 2021, however, global prices began recovering, with the sector expected to see a significant revival as a result.
Côte d’Ivoire’s mineral resources have often been overshadowed by its agricultural commodities, but exploration work has determined that there is extensive untapped potential in the country. Much of its under-exploited resources lie in the Birimian Greenstone Belt, a geological feature that extends under the south-eastern border with Ghana, which has become one of Africa’s richest and most productive areas.
Endeavour’s Afema project is one example of recent efforts to expand output in this region, with more than 550 holes drilled there by January 2021 and further work ongoing as of June 2022.
Local gold explorer Tietto Minerals is also continuing work in its Abujar prospect, which has already revealed high-grade gold deposits. The company is now drilling in additional areas to expand its 3.5m-ounce resource. The company’s AG South prospect is likely to be the location for major full-scale gold mining activity between 2022 and 2024, according to Tietto officials.
Australia’s Mako Gold is also continuing to explore its Napié project located in north-central Côte d’ Ivoire. In March 2022 the company announced plans to intensify its drilling at the project’s Gogbala prospect after striking additional high-grade gold deposits. In April 2022 Turaco Gold announced positive results from drilling at the Satama gold discovery, which lies within the Eburnea Gold Project in central Côte d’Ivoire, close to Endeavour’s Fetekro gold project and Allied Gold’s Bonikro and Moz Agbaou gold mines.
In September 2021 new prospecting permits were granted by the then-MMG to Divo Metals, Battle Resources and Yam’s Mining, while an exploitation permit was granted to La Mancha Côte d’Ivoire, an Endeavour subsidiary, for gold mining in Dabakala.
Existing mining areas have also expanded thanks to active exploration campaigns. In April 2022, for example, Perseus Mining announced further intersections of high-grade gold mineralisation at its CMA underground prospect at the Yauoré gold mine.
At the same time, a major drilling campaign took place in the second quarter of 2022 at the Atex dual lithium-tantalum project after exploration company Firering appointed Foraco International’s FOREMI as its drilling contractor for the project in April 2022. The company believes Atex may become one of West Africa’s major lithium resources, which would significantly strengthen Côte d’Ivoire’s international mining profile, given significant global demand for this critical mineral.
Amid the surge in exploration activity, Côte d’Ivoire’s mining sector is well positioned to continue its expansion. As only a small fraction of the country’s mining area has been explored thus far, there is significant growth potential in the years ahead. Tietto Minerals’ Abujar gold project, for example, was only 10% explored in 2020, according to its CEO Caigen Wang.
The government’s commitment to the sector and its further expansion also bodes well for the future, while debate about updating the mining code show a receptiveness to industry and community concerns. Moving forwards, sustainability and awareness of mining’s impact on the environment will remain key priorities.
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