February 20, 2019, by Jake Stanley
Meralt – Beyond Minerals
Following the Ingenuity19 Future Communities summit, we heard from Ingenuity Lab member Will Rakotomalala with the latest updates on Meralt. Take it away, Will…
‘In this fast-paced era of technological advancement and a generation accustomed to living “in the cloud”, here, at Meralt, we aim to keep it down to earth.’
Setting the stage.
Over 30 years ago, my father was faced with a tough decision to make. Preparing to enter higher education to ultimately pursue a career in IT, things took an unexpected turn as he was blindsided by an opportunity that would take him to the most remote places of Madagascar and across the world (Read more here).
Essentially, this opportunity was to do with mining. My father had no knowledge nor experience dealing with rocks, and let alone with gemstones that would, years down the road, make worldwide headlines. Nonetheless, in his adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit he decided to follow this path, learn his way up and that set the stage for Meralt.
Madagascar, a country of 25 million people, boasts some of the world’s most unique landscape, biodiversity and resources. Labelled as the world’s fourth largest island, or often the 7th Continent, 80% of its Flora and Fauna are endemic to the country. In terms of economic numbers, Madagascar supplies 80% of the world’s Vanilla trade, at least 30% of the world’s Sapphires, is in the Top 10 Graphite and Ilmenite producers in the world, as well as other significant mineral resources such as Gold, Nickel, Quartz, etc, which overall account for 30% of the country’s export. Yet, despite being classified as a resource-rich country, 80% of the population still lives under $1 a day.
With respect to artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), a sector that has been operating for centuries and yet has been neglected, it is estimated that it employs between 500,000 to 1,000,000 full time and seasonal miners, making it the 2nd largest employment provider in rural areas. Back in the days, and still very much applicable today, artisanal and small-scale miners and ventures, face various obstacles when mining and dealing with stakeholders in this sector. The presence of corruption and dominance from the politico-economic elites, the poor legal and physical infrastructure, as well as a market that is not necessarily very fair, have posed a threat to the livelihood and operations of these miners and small businesses.
To add to this, a production that is predominantly focused on the mining of precious and semi-precious metals and gemstones, such as gold and sapphires, has taken its toll on both these mining communities and the environment. In fact, these mining activities are often associated with poor health and safety conditions, trafficking, child labour and deforestation of some of the country’s remaining protected areas; activities, which, if left uninterrupted would further aggravate the country’s economic, social and environmental state.
What we aim to achieve
Meralt aims to address these pressing issues and become a leader in adopting good business practices and fostering inclusive development in the artisan and small-scale mining industry in Madagascar. One of our key aims is to be able to connect ASM stakeholders, including local miners and collectors, with their UK counterparts, such as collectors, retailers and institutions. By acting as a platform between the two countries, we facilitate the exchange of knowledge, expertise, investments and products.
Meralt focuses especially on mineral specimens for two major reasons. Firstly, although precious metals and gemstones account for most of ASM activities, purely because of their commercial value, we believe mineral specimens are equally valuable. This is because minerals are points of reference for science, history and quite simply, art. In addition to this, the mining of precious, semi-precious metals and gemstones, often yield great mineral specimens as by products. However, due to the local market being inclined towards the former, valuable minerals can often be discarded and not made use of. For us, this means recovering these mineral specimens which can then be studied and exhibited for scientific, educational, historical and artistic purposes.
And that’s only half the story.
‘Everybody wants to succeed, but not everyone wants to get their hands dirty’
As part of our initiative to foster inclusive development and giving back to the community, we aim to work hand in hand with the relevant stakeholders to develop policies and work methods that would allow ASM actors to benefit from a legalised infrastructure, thus eradicating corruption and smuggling, while guaranteeing fairer trade (see how we work). In addition, we aim to empower these miners and communities by helping provide for their basic needs such as healthcare, education, better infrastructure and tools to do their job. And we’re proud to say that we’re not the only ones focused on doing the right thing, as there is growing support both from associations, the World Bank and the local Government in supporting the ASM sector. As such, what makes us unique is merely the minerals in and of themselves, but rather the fact that we, as Meralt, choose to look at the broader picture, the society, the economy and the environment – that is, Beyond Minerals.