I managed to download the booth details and conference agenda from 2014 and analysed this together with the information from the 2015 conference which showed the following statistics for resource companies:
In his opening remarks Bill Repard, Executive Chairman, Paydirt Media, the conference organisers, claimed a "record number of delegations", presumably this was because Zimbabwe was represented for the first time! He chose his words carefully when talking about the total number of delegates and said that it was "around 1000". I have no way of validating this number, but I do know that the conference auditorium held 340 people and at no time did I see it full, even in the opening session. I would estimate that for most sessions, it was 50 to the 60% occupied and at times less.
Whilst I was aware that the conference was split between two hotels, the Pan Pacific and the Novotel, on opposite sides of Hill Street, it was not apparent from any of the signage, exactly where the conference was being held. Admittedly this information was contained in a leaflet in the "show bag" but most delegates leave sifting through the contents of the bag until after they have got their bearings.
With a full price tickets for delegates being $1750; a $200 discount was available to those booking early, the conference is cheaper to attend than Diggers & Dealers, although I would suggest that this does not necessarily make it better value for money. To reach into the “show bag” and pull out a flyer inviting me to sign up to receive a DVD of the conference presentations at a cost of $160 was surprising to say the least. That piece of paper went straight in the bin. I trust that this does not become a trend. At other conferences that I have attended in the past, conference papers were provided as part of the ticket price either on DVD or via download from the conference website.
Mr Repard should remember that listed companies are required to lodge their presentations with the ASX, which is where I will be getting copies from and I'm sure that most of the other entities presenting would be happy to provide a copy electronically if anyone so wished.
Having read Dryblowers pre-conference piece on Monday 31 August, I was interested to see what the tone of the conference was. Blower had suggested that many African countries were a bit miffed at mining companies who had come into their country promising much and then failing to deliver projects due to the slump in commodity prices.
It was therefore a little surprising to listen to one country after another presents themselves as the “best place in Africa” to come and explore and mine. Phrases like "multi-party democracy", "stable", "simplified", "revised mining legislation", "elimination of corruption" and "Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)" were widely bandied around.
My takeaway from all of these attempts to lure explorers and miners, is that Africa "gets it". Perhaps it is the downturn in commodity prices that has impacted on the number of mining and exploration companies choosing Africa as a destination, it is apparent that all of these countries understand that they are competing globally for investment in the mining sector and without the kind of reforms of which they spoke they will find it increasingly harder to attract investment to their country.
Several of the countries presenting made mention of artisan miners in their revised legislation and how the legislation provided for this type of activity. But it was the Hon Fred Moyo MP, the Minister of Mines & Mining Development, Republic of Zimbabwe, who made it clear, to me at least, why accommodating these people is important. He explained that the issue of small scale miners, often termed "illegal miners" was one that they had to deal with. He argued that if one million people undertake “illegal mining" in order to survive, then the legislation has to recognise this and accommodate them in some way.
On the theme of legislation, Otsile Matlou of ENSAfrica, a lawyer with a great sense of humour, gave an entertaining and insightful presentation on the regulatory framework in Africa and the move towards an integrated structure.
He made the point that the shape of Africa; as in country borders, is determined by its colonial past and therefore its mineral regulation is similarly defined by its colonial history.
Otsile also noted that the Africa Mining Vision (AMV) is actually about development rather than mining, mining is seen as a catalyst for development and therefore a reason to encourage it.
This reinforced the message from our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop in her presentation to open the last day of the conference and underlined by many of the companies giving presentations throughout the conference.
Tanya Plibasek, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, whilst partially endorsing mining as an enabler of development appeared to be more interested in political points scoring by highlighting the aid that has been withdrawn from Africa by the current government as well as firing a few shots across the bow of the industry about environmental impact and corruption. She brought to mind a teacher telling the kids to play nicely in the playground and warning them of the consequences if they did not.
I certainly think that at events such as this, politics should be left at the door and both parties should be focused on the positives of Australia's engagement with Africa.
It is a fact that most mining and exploration companies operating in Africa, indeed anywhere in the world, now take corporate social responsibility (CSR) very seriously and are genuinely enhancing the communities in which they operate. Perhaps the most impassioned commentary on CSR was given by Tim Carstens, MD of Base Resources, who stated that he had banned the term "CSR" in their company because it sounds like an obligation. He said that they saw it as a core part of their business and treated as an investment. So like any other investment they look at cost benefit to ensure that the best use is made of the money that they invest. Tim said that they are looking to leave a legacy so that when the Kwale mine closes in about 13 years’ time they don't leave a void and a memory of "how good things used to be". There was certainly sincerity in his voice whilst he was speaking on this topic.
Base have certainly put an emphasis on employing Kenyans on the project with 94% of their employees being nationals. The expatriates currently number 42 but Base have a target to reduce this to 15 in the longer term. But Tim pointed out that the employment issue is actually more complex than simply employing Kenyan’s, it is about employing local Kenyan’s, people who come from the province in which the mine is located. In this regard, 62% of their workforce are “locals”.
John Welbourne, MD of Resolute Mining had a similar message about community engagement and support on the first day of the conference.
Resolute are looking at connecting their Syama goldmine in Mali to the grid and as part of that are looking to connect communities along the route to their power line because of the benefits that this will bring to those communities.
One of the positives that I took away from the conference was a couple of conversations that I had with recruiters, who both indicated that business was picking up. One in particular mentioned that he was receiving an increasing number of briefs to find Study and Project managers, suggesting that there are certainly some in the industry that believe that we are at or near the bottom of the cycle and will be shortly moving on an upward trajectory and they are therefore getting ready to be amongst the first movers.
The commodity of the moment appeared to be graphite, with several companies presenting on their "outstanding" project with the largest flake size, highest carbon content and biggest tonnage etc. Only Alan Mulligan, MD of Walkabout Resources was bold enough to suggest that the graphite price will fall as a surplus of supply comes on stream. Interestingly enough there was an article in yesterday's Miningnews.net titled, "Weighing up graphite's future", which pondered the same issues and came to the same conclusion.
In terms of standout presentations, I was certainly impressed by Colin Barnett's knowledge of the West Australian mining industry and his apparent ability to speak off the cuff. He may well have referred to a few notes but it all seemed to flow naturally and regardless of which side of politics you sit, he is a great advocate for the state and for the mining industry.
John Welbourne, gave an excellent and high energy presentation on Resolute's activities in Africa and made the point that by 2040, Africa will have a working population of 1.1 billion people, which is more than China or India. A great reason to be operating there.
Base Resources MD, Tim Carstens gave a similarly energetic and passionate report on their Kwale heavy mineral project in Kenya and his views on the social aspects of operating in Africa, as mentioned earlier.
Cliff Lawrenson, Minemakers MD gave a very eloquent, punchy and short presentation on the company's Baobab Phosphate Project in Senegal and Lindsay Reed did a similarly focused and brief report on their Cabinda Phosphate Project in Angola.
I will caveat my next statement by saying that I worked for Minemakers for almost 7 years. Apart from gold; which in most currencies other than the US dollar is doing pretty well, phosphate is the standout commodity at present having enjoyed 12 months of stable pricing whilst nearly every other commodity has fallen. The problem is that companies working in the phosphate space are lumped in with all other resource companies and are therefore "on the nose" with investors. In reality these companies should be the standouts of the sector, given the commodities stable price and the projections for world population growth.
Jayne Baird, VP Exploration Africa and Atlantic Margins, for Woodside Energy Ltd, provided an intriguing presentation on Woodside’s targeting methods, explaining how they effectively re-trace time to find analogue targets along the continental margins. Certainly an interesting presentation for the technically minded amongst us.
Most of us are aware of Africa’s enormous mineral endowment and are probably aware of oil in Nigeria and Angola, but the full extent of Africa’s oil and gas resources, both known and potential, is truly staggering, hence Woodside’s interest in the continent.
Finally I must mention James Durrant, Study Manager for Danakali Ltd who gave a very impassioned presentation on the companies Colluli Potash Project in Eritrea.
James read from a written speech; something which I have found hard to do with good flow and any real sense of conviction. He certainly wore his heart on his sleeve and managed to get the emphasis in exactly the right places so that his a passion for the project was very apparent.
I suppose the question for me is whether my attendance was worthwhile? Well it will certainly take several months until I can provide a definitive answer on that from a financial perspective. I know exactly how much work I have to generate for Wardell Armstrong or myself in order to recoup the cost of attending.
In terms of gaining a sense of the level of mining industry activity in Africa and the receptiveness of the host nations to exploration and mining within their borders, it certainly provided a great insight.
Will I be back next year? I can't give an answer on that just yet.