Mali is a country in the western part of the African continent. The country is landlocked and sits on the Saharan and Sahelian regions making it mainly arid. The country shares its border with Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Guinea, Niger, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire. The main relief features are plateaus and plains making the landscape flat and monotonous. The country occupies a total area of 482,077 square miles and is home to a population of 19,134,000 people who live mainly close to the banks of River Niger. Despite its arid climate, the country is endowed with a host of mineral resources which include gold, uranium, diamonds, copper, iron ore, precious stones, zinc, manganese, bauxite, lead, lithium, bitumen schist, marble, gypsum, kaolin, phosphate, lignite, diatomic, and rock salt. Mali is also home to a variety of wildlife which includes, black rhinos, African lions, Crocodiles, elephants, camels, leopards, giraffes, chimpanzees, ball pythons, and a variety of birds.
Mali is considered to have some of the largest gold deposits on the continent. Commercial exploration and mining of gold began in 1984. The nation is currently the third largest exporter of gold on the continent after the top leading countries of Ghana and South Africa. The mining of gold in the nation has probably been going on for at least a millennium. Some of the earliest mentions of gold in the nation date back to the reign of Emperor KanKou Moussa in 1324 when he made a pilgrimage to Mecca with an estimated 8 tons of gold. Despite knowledge about the nation’s vast gold resources, exploration and mining have remained below potential. The nation has three major gold mines which include Sadiola, Morila, and Loula. Sadiola and Morila produce about 80% of the nation's gold while the relatively new Loula mine has the potential of producing 250,000 ounces of gold per year.
Currently, gold exports provide the lion’s share of the nation's revenues. Only a few major stakeholders and small scale artisanal miners are involved in mining and exploration leaving vast tracks of potentially gold-rich land un-utilized. Other reasons that hinder gold mining include political instability and poor infrastructure. Only six of the 133 gold-rich areas have been mapped out meaning that the nation still has enormous gold production potential. Gold exploration activities in the country have mainly focused on the Kenieba valley and the Tabakoto-Baroya regions. The Kenieba valley region is close to the border with Senegal while the Tabakoto-Baroya region is to the south-southeast of Bamako. However, there are concerns that the nation chance of emerging as one of the largest gold exporters may not be realized as Sadiola mine (which has over 3.4 million ounces of gold reserves) will need an additional $380 million to keep it operational. Unproductive government negotiations have previously stalled the investment. It is anticipated that the necessary investment will be poured in to prevent a shut down in the next ten years.
Diamonds in Mali are found in the form of both alluvial deposits and from kimberlite pipes. The Kenieba region has some of the nation’s well-known diamond deposits. Other regions that have reported discoveries include the Bagoe, the Niger River and the Doundi where diamonds have been recovered from gravels. Knowledge of diamond deposits in the Kenieba region was first noted in 1954 by accident when a police report in Kankan, Guinea indicated that there had been a reported sale of a 137.5-carat diamond from the region. The news led to numerous diamond exploration campaigns throughout the region by both the government and locals. Each of the three government buyers in Bamako reported the sale of at least 900 carats per annum. However, it is possible that a significant portion of diamonds recovered remains unreported as collectors prefer selling their findings across the border in Guinea. Diamond mining in the nation is still considered underdeveloped.
The Falea deposit is located 217 miles west of Bamako. It is known to have significant uranium deposits. The Falea deposit has an estimated 5,511 tons of the mineral. Other deposits in the country include the Kidal project that is found to the north of the country. The Kidal project sits on 1,695 square miles of land. The Samit deposit in the Goa region is estimated to have about 220 tons of Uranium. Interest in uranium mining, as well as other minerals in the nation, has spiked in recent years due to increased global demand for energy. The demand has led buyers to consider more insecure and underdeveloped sources as opposed to sources in stable nations.
Mali also has significant Bauxite deposits. The government is currently on the journey to exploit the resource. The government has paved the way for exploration of the mineral in various areas including the 115 square miles Falea concession near the border with Guinea and Senegal, the 463.32 square miles Sikasso North concession and, the 965 square miles Bamako West concession.
Mali is known for the production of various semi-precious stones including, epidote, amethyst, garnet, quartz, and prehnite. Artisanal miners produce the gemstones. The government estimates that artisanal miners produce about 10,000 tons per year. Garnet is mainly exported to Germany, while prehnite in mainly exported to China.
Significant phosphate resources are situated in the southeast of the nation. The main active mine is located in the Tilemsi Valley. The Tilemsi valley is estimated to have at least 11 million tons of 31.4% Phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5).
Small scale extraction of gypsum can be found at Kereit. However, large deposits have been identified in Taoudeni.
Limestone and Marble
Mali has large limestone deposits which are used to drive the nation’s construction industry. Extraction of limestone at Diamou is used to produce cement. The nation also has significant marble deposits.
Gains From Natural Resources
Despite the nation’s abundant natural resources, Mali remains relatively poor and highly indebted. The extraction of minerals also remains low compared to the nation's potential. Experts warn that it might take some years before the people of Mali can fully derive benefits from minerals in the nation’s rich soil.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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