Malawi, Mining and the Sustainable Development Goals – Mining & Trade Review (December 2016)

2015-11 Mining and Trade Review Eye on Malawi's EITI Rachel Etter-Phoya

Eyes on Malawi’s EITI: Examining Malawi’s journey towards EITI compliance with Rachel Etter Phoya

Malawi, Mining and the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 2030 Agenda were endorsed by Malawi along with 192 other United Nations member states in 2015. What do the SDGs have to do with mining, you may ask? Well, the 17 goals (shown in the image) that build on the Millennium Development Goals, seek to guide global action for social inclusion, environmental sustainability and economic development. Mining has the opportunity to contribute to this and is already doing so in some countries and areas. However, historically, the extractive industries, particularly in this region, have too frequently exacerbated inequality, and caused environmental harm and social disruption.

Sustainable Development Goals_E_Final sizes

The sector remains small in Malawi but there are expectations that it will grow in the long-run. The commodity price boom in the early 2000s was coupled with anticipation that mining could contribute as much as 20% to the country’s GDP (see for example the 2013 Mines and Minerals Policy) given the increased activity in exploration and the start of the first large-scale mining project, Kayelekera Uranium Mine. At present, mining revenue contributes less than 1% to GDP (as outlined in the Ministry of Finance’s Annual Economic Report 2016) but it is pertinent to think ahead about how the country’s finite natural resource wealth (minerals and potentially oil and gas) can be used to drive much needed change, aligned with our national and international development agenda.

Diverse stakeholders are already working together, through initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, to establish the necessary framework and mechanisms to ensure mining and associated revenue contributes to national and sub-national development.

To help government, companies, civil society and residents in mining communities discuss how mining and exploration companies can support the achievement of the SDGs, the World Economic Forum, the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment and the United Nations Development Programme produced a White Paper, “Mapping Mining to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas” in July 2016.

The Atlas – which is worth a read for its large number of case studies of good practice – points out that the large-scale mining industry has the potential to contribute to all 17 goals with some common opportunities for companies despite differences in local context and phase of mining activities. In particular,

If companies are looking for a place to start, the goals of social inclusion, environmental sustainability and economic development highlight some SDGs that might be opportunities for many mining companies. (p3)

This includes ensuring the responsible management of the environment to help realise the goals on clean water and sanitation, life on land, energy access and sustainability, and climate (SDGs 6, 15, 7 and 13 respectively). Mining can be used to improve social inclusion by addressing poverty and reducing inequality and can contribute to ensuring SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions is supported through avoiding and resolving conflict between the company and communities, upholding human rights and supporting community representatives in decision-making. Positive contributions to economic development influenced by mining can happen at all levels including through infrastructure  development that is useful beyond the mining project, by opportunities for work and human resource development, and through the way minerals are produced and consumed, such as phosphate and micronutrients for fertilisers and rare earths in technology for a low-carbon economy.

Most companies in Malawi, like Mkango Resources and Sovereign Metals, are in the exploration phase which means they are trying to discover an area where it will be profitable to take a resource out of the ground. To do this, they have to undertake very costly activities like surveying, sampling and testing, and they are under pressure to make a good discovery so that a mining project can start, make a profit, and the initial investors who took the risk by spending money on exploration can be rewarded for this. Even at the exploration stage, community engagement is vital and companies can contribute to the SDGs. For example, the Atlas shows how exploration companies can make an effort to ensure jobs are generated for people in the host country, health and safety standards are applied and good systems are in place for community representatives to meet with and discuss developments with the company.

I recommend reading the “Mapping Mining to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas” (July 2016) for yourself. Download it here.


The article above was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 44 that is circulating this December 2016.

The full edition is available for download here. This monthly publication is edited by Marcel Chimwala.

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