Burkina Faso Mining

This interesting article illustrates some of the challenges facing mining companies in developing Countries like Burkina Faso. The implementation of resettlement and sustainable livelihood development are often not straightforward, especially when one adds in the often very short life of mine for Gold mining and the need to try to actually leave a positive legacy after closure.
Huckbody Environmental is currently developing resettlement and livelihood restoration in Burkina Faso for a mining company.

Burkina Faso and the Sahel

The area of northern Burkina Faso I am currently working as Environmental & Social Manager in is an incredible mix of transhumance, and within 20km distance of the borders with both Niger and Mali. It is therefore populated by nomadic and semi-nomadic people from several tribes, including Tuareg, Hausa, Bella and Songhai. These people have had centuries of colourful, cultural and religious interaction, which continue today as it does in many parts of the Sahel, exacerbated very recently by issues such as the Mali incursion by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organization fighting to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, who had taken control of the region by April 2012. This has resulted in thousands of Malian refugees establishing camps inside the border in Burkina Faso. The former colonial power of France quelled this uprising in 2013 and I observed several helicopter gunships on my visits up there.
Historically the main tribal groups had some extremely interesting interactions: The Peul Fulani are a cattle herding people with heavy tattooing and facial scarification. The Peul woman are renown for having large, black tattoos over their mouths and beautiful jewellery. The Mossiare Burkina’s major ethnic group and are remarkable for their history as the only nation over the last 1000 years to not only resist the imposition of Islam but also the only nation to successfully defend themselves against the enormous empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. The Tuareg are the famous desert nomads wrapped in indigo robes and turbans who have for centuries run trans Saharan camel caravans swapping desert salt for daily necessities. The Bella tribe were originally Tuareg slaves, but even after gaining their freedom they continue their nomadic existence although to a reduced extent.


The Hausa people have a very restricted dressing code due to the fact of religious beliefs. The men are easily recognizable because of their elaborate dress which is a large flowing gown known as Babban riga and a robe called a jalabia and juanni. These large flowing gowns usually feature some elaborate embroidery designs around the neck. Men also wear colourful embroidered caps known as fula, and depending on location and occupation, may wear a Tuareg-style turban around this to veil the face (known as Alasho or Tagelmust). The women can be identified by their dressing codes in which they wear wrappers called abaya made with colourful cloth with a matching blouse, head tie and shawl.
The Hausa were famous throughout the Middle Ages, they were often characterized by their Indigo blue dressing and emblems, they traditionally rode on fine Saharan Camels and Arabian Horses.
The Tuareg (also spelled Twareg or Touareg) are a Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Traditionally, Tuareg society is hierarchical, with nobility and vassals.
Like other major ethnic groups in West Africa, the Tuareg once held slaves (éklan / Ikelan in Tamasheq, Bouzou in Hausa, Bella in Songhai). The slaves called éklan once formed a distinct social class in Tuareg society. Eklan formed distinct sub-communities; they were a class held in an inherited serf-like condition, common among societies in precolonial West Africa. There are many Bella tribal people in my study area, with whom I deal with and I find them gentle, humble and incredibly passive and subservient in nature. The women generally keep to the background, but are wonderfully colourful, with beautifully ornate, hand made head wear and jewellery.

Colourful Bella tribal women

The Tuareg language, a branch of the Berber languages, has an estimated 1.2 million speakers. About half this number is accounted for by speakers of the Eastern dialect (Tamajaq, Tawallammat). Most Tuareg live in the Saharan parts of Niger, Mali, and Algeria. Being nomadic, they move constantly across national borders, and small groups of Tuareg also live in southeastern Algeria, southwestern Libya and northern Burkina Faso, and a small community in northern Nigeria.
A tagelmust is an indigo dyed cotton garment with the appearance of both a veil and a turban. The cloth may exceed ten meters in length. It is worn mostly by Tuareg men, but is sometimes used by men in other neighbouring ethnic groups, such as the Hausa or Songhai. In recent times, other colours have come into use, with the indigo veils saved for use on special occasions. It usually has many layers that cover the head, and it drapes down to loosely cover the neck.
The tagelmust is a very practical garment for the Sahara region, as it both covers the head and prevents the inhalation of wind borne sand. The indigo is also believed by many of the wearers to be healthy and beautiful, with a build up of indigo in the skin of the wearer being generally considered to protect the skin, and denote affluence. Because the tagelmust is often dyed by pounding in dried indigo instead of the normal process due to a lack of water, the dye often permanently leaches into the skin of the wearer. As such, the Tuareg are often referred to as the “blue men of the desert”.
Among the Tuareg, men who wear the tagelmust are called Kel Tagelmust, or “People of the Veil”. The tagelmust is worn only by adult males, and only taken off in the presence of close family. Tuareg men often find shame in showing their mouth or nose to strangers or people of a higher standing than themselves, and have been known to hide their features using their hands if a tagelmust is unavailable. The tagelmust has other cultural significance, as the manner in which it is wrapped and folded is often used to show clan and regional origin, and the darkness to which it is dyed showing the wealth of the wearer.

Tuareg and his transport

My adventure continues, as I look to develop a range of social development initiatives, alongside planning resettlement of this village adjacent to the new mine.
Some of the people:

Proud, but with eye problems like so many here

The kids are very poor in this village, yet colourful

Calm and colourful village folk

Smiling in the face of adversity

The class register tells a story; sizeable village but only 6 boys attend the school, no girls. Very often in Africa school attendance is influenced by many things and building a new school often makes very little difference to school attendance or educational standards in the village.

School register

The class

I like the way the machetes and swords are kept outside all the meetings that I organise.

Machetes and swords collection

Giving the kids water, but making sure to collect those dreaded plastic water bags that litter half of West Africa.

Everyone needs water

Andy hosting a community meeting; i recall all those years of shirts and ties.

Me in a meeting in a sand storm

Taking shelter at the huge Markoye market

Water delivery is an essential part of life in the Sahel; these guys are rocking with twin donkeys.

Donkey power

Burkina Faso Mining

Since April 2013, Huckbody Environmental has been providing Environmental and Social Management services to Pan African Minerals for their Tambao Manganese project in Burkina Faso, with rail transport down to the port of Abidjan in Cote D’Ivoire. The mine is located in the Sahel at the north of Burkina Faso and poses some interesting environmental and social challenges, with increasing desertification and under-development of the region. Andy’s responsibilities included direction of all Environmental and Social Management for the company, managing all ESIAs for the project; designing and managing large scale resettlement of villages near the mine; organising all compensation for land and crops affected by the bypass roads around several villages; and development of extensive community development/community investment programmes with an annual budget of $10 Million.

Drinking water cooler in school -no taps here


Young girl carrying water from the well


Me at the local camel market


Sunset after meeting


Typical homestead in Northern Burkina Faso


Typical child in my village meeting


Tuareg arriving for my meeting


The local car park


Andy entertaining the Touareg

Andy left the Project due to weak management and the associated threat to security following the Coup d’etat that overthrew the long time President Campaore. His decision proved to be correct as within a short time the mining was stopped and one of the expat security personnel kidnapped by terrorists.

Green and golden seaweed tides on the rise

I documented the phenomenon of the huge tides of Sargassum weed that were sequentially dumped along the beaches of Sierra Leone in 2011 and 12. I informed many people of this natural phenomenon, despite many trying to blame their appearance on dredging in the Pepel channel some 35-40km away!
I contributed to this article published 5 December 2013 in nature and am credited at the end. All very interesting.

CASA-1000 World Bank, REA

Huckbody Environmental has been commissioned by the World Bank, Central Asia and South Asia to undertake a Regional Environmental Assessment of the CASA-1000 Project
The Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan are pursuing the development of electricity trading arrangements and the establishment of a Central Asia – South Asia Regional Electricity Market (CASAREM). Since 2005, these four countries have intensified their internal cooperation and with a variety of International Financial Institutions (IFIs), including the World Bank.
A key aim of the CASAREM initiative is the proposed development of a cross-border electrical interconnection linking all four countries to facilitate the transfer of surplus power from the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, southwards to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The first phase of CASAREM is to establish the necessary transmission and trading infrastructure and systems to enable a trade of 1000 to 1300 MW of electricity between Central Asia and South Asia, and referred to as “CASA-1000”. It is envisaged that the major share of this export will be used by Pakistan, while a relatively smaller quantity of power (up to 300 MW) will be imported by Afghanistan.

CASA Route

CASA Route

Burkina Faso Mining

Huckbody Environmental has been commissioned to manage the Environmental and Social aspects of a new mine in Burkina Faso and associated infrastructure development that is required to export the product.

Sahel settlements

African Minerals Sierra Leone

After many months I finally got the Consultants (ERM) on board and managed the kick off meeting for the ESIA, required for the next expansion phase Pepel 35/Phase 2. This presented a suitable milestone for me to move on to a fresh challenge after over 3 years on the project as General Manager, Environment with African Minerals, based in Sierra Leone.

In particular the CEO and his new senior management have no clue about working in West Africa; the Canadian Environmental guy informed me with enthusiasm he was ‘bringing mechanised agriculture to Tonkolili’ – an upland rain forest area – Totally inappropriate and doomed to failure. I had seen enough. I was not surprised to see some time later that the whole project and company had been run into the ground and was taken over. You reap what you sow I always say.
When I first came to Sierra Leone, Pepel was deserted, the old hospital medical facilities were intact with equipment lying on the operating tables; trees had grown up holding the abandoned trains onto the rail track and there was one drill rig at Tonkolili. What has been achieved subsequently has been nothing short of phenomenal and I applaud my colleagues and project partners for creating this huge positive asset for the benefit of the country.
It certainly was no walk in the park; there was no Environmental Department or resources and back at the start of 2010 construction commenced across the entire footprint and I began the mad race around the work sites to advise on project standards and procedures to be followed. I smile now at the conditions of near zero telecomms, hopeless cars, rough tracks and facilities that were not established to cater for something they had not experienced before.
My work has to date found rare animals and fish and 5 plant species new to science and I was successful in officially naming the tree species after the project – Gilbertiodendron tonkolili, a fitting legacy for me that started life as a Botanist. I routed the road/rail around a group of chimpanzee way back and we continue to work with the communities there, where we provided latrines, tree nursery and other support. We have just completed the facility at Pepel which will host the environmental education programme for school children I designed, to help the next generation be aware of the environment.
I feel very comfortable that I am leaving behind a positive legacy for someone to deliver steady state compliance.
I have worked in many countries from Russia, to Asia, South America to Africa and there will always be expats like me who think nothing of jumping on a plane to visit a new chunk of the planet and sample a new group within our Global society. However, this project was special – Sierra Leone. From the hand-less peddlers in Freetown to the one-legged footballers on Lumley beach, the tenacity and ambition of Sierra Leoneans can only be admired and is very humbling, even to a well-seasoned traveller like me. When I first came, even those who were forward looking didn’t really dare to believe that something good was going to happen, they had been disappointed so many times before. I literally met people who did not believe we actually had a railway and thought it all propaganda. I say to Sierra Leoneans – grab this thing with both hands, squeeze it and make it happen! these are your mineral resources; go forward and prosper.
I take away a collection of interesting experiences from here and have enjoyed meeting a bunch of characters and made some good friends. My favourite phrase from SL – Have a Blessed Day.

Tagrin to Freetown Ferry

Always an interesting journey across the sea between Tagrin and Freetown. A colourful crush of passengers, fruit and fish vendors, trucks and cars.

The crush and the colour begins

Plenty of room mate - move along

There told you so

Un soldiers

Plain sailing

Looks like a tight squeeze - oops bounced off the other boat

Sargassum, Sierra Leone

Hundreds of tonnes of Sargassum are either buried or partially buried in sand along the beaches of Freetown peninsula, especially along Lumley area in Aberdeen. The algae is rotting producing hydrogen sulphide gas and a smelly organic ooze that continues to run down to the water line. More weed is arriving sporadically. One wonders what the local effects of this organic enrichment are on the marine ecosystem.

Rotting Sargassum

Organic ooze

The weed certainly does not help the look of the beach, as it traps the huge quantities of garbage that wash into the sea throughout Freetown and beyond, due to there being no waste management systems in the country by enlarge.
Garbage trapped in the weed

Calabash Tree

Huge hard fruits of the Calabash Tree

Saw an unusual tree at the top of the beach at Lakka, on the Freetown Peninsula, it was a Calabash Tree. I don’t know how widespread they are in Sierra Leone, that is the first fruiting one i have seen.
Calabash tree, (Crescentia cujete), tree of the family Bignoniaceae, 6 to 12 metres (20 to 40 feet) tall, that grows in Central and South America, the West Indies, and extreme southern Florida. It is often grown as an ornamental. The calabash tree produces large spherical fruits, up to 50 cm (20 inches) in diameter, the hard shells of which are useful as bowls, cups, and other water containers when hollowed out. The fruit’s shell encloses a whitish pulp and thin, dark brown seeds. The calabash tree’s flowers have five petals fused in a funnel shape; they are light green and purple-streaked in colour. The tree may flower and fruit at any time of the year. The branches of the calabash are long and spread outward horizontally with almost no secondary branching. The evergreen leaves are about 5–15 cm long, are lance-shaped, and taper at the base. Fruits of the unrelated bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria, family Cucurbitaceae) are also known as calabashes.


Towards the end of June 2011, huge amounts of Sargassum started to wash ashore all along the beaches of Sierra Leone. The species looks like Sargassum fluitans which is one of the species that makes up the Sargasso Sea – in the Med there is more commonly S vulgare or S. hornschuci; but identification is not confirmed. People speculated about its origin, as local people had never seen anything like it before. There have been recent reports of huge casts like this from Half-Moon Bay and other sites in Antigua in the Caribbean. Some of them are seriously affecting resorts there.
I personally returned 9 stranded baby turtles back to the surf, as of course floating rafts of Sargassum can be an important shelter for baby turtles and other juvenile sea life.
The shores were fairly weed free for 6 weeks or so and then an even bigger quantity came in mid August 2011.

Sargassum on Lumley Beach, Aberdeen, Sierra Leone

Close up of Sargassum in Sierra Leone

The extract below comes from http://arlohemphill.com/2011/08/change-is-in-the-air-seaweed-seaweed-everywhere/ where more info can be found.
Over recent weeks, scientists and resource managers in such diverse places as Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and Sierra Leone have been reporting unusual incidents of seaweed washing ashore in massive quantities. The seaweed is a type of brown algae known as Sargassum, which commonly drifts on ocean currents of the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. This algae is well-known for washing up en masse on beaches in places such as Florida, Texas and Bermuda. What’s different this year is not so much the quantities, but the geography. The islands of the Lesser Antilles report never having seen this much of the seaweed before (although it is normally present in their waters), while the country of Sierra Leone has never known it under any quantity.

Sierra Leone Sights & Sounds – Rice Farming, Bunce Island, Street Dance

Rice has become a commodity of strategic significance across much of Africa.
Driven by changing food preferences in the urban and rural areas and compounded by high population growth rates and rapid urbanization, rice consumption in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 6% per annum between 1961 and 1992, more than double the rate of population growth, with consumption and production spreading well beyond their traditional centres in West Africa and Madagascar. West Africa has become a significant player in world rice markets precisely because of its increasingly significant share of world rice imports,
The slow growth in domestic rice production has been attributed to the very low yield being achieved by West African rice farmers. The major rice production systems are upland, hydromorphic and rainfed lowland which together occupy more than 74% of area cultivated.
Whilst I was in the Freetown Port recently, I watched a vessel from Chittagong Bangladesh, where I worked and lived for 2 years, unloading huge quantities of rice from Bangladesh and India. To me this is an unfortunate set of circumstances, as Sierra Leone has huge potential for efficient rice farming and imports such as this would seem to use much needed foreign exchange.
rice farming video
rice farming

Bunce Island
Bunce Island was the largest British slave castle on the Rice Coast of West Africa. Founded around 1670, it exported tens of thousands of African captives to North America and the West Indies until the British Parliament finally closed it down in 1808. During its long and tragic history, Bunce Island was operated by four London-based companies: the Gambia Adventurers; the Royal African Company of England (which had official recognition from the British Crown); and the private firms of Grant, Oswald & Company and John & Alexander Anderson.

During the 1750s Richard Oswald, Bunce Island’s principal owner, forged a strong business and personal relationship with Henry Laurens, one of the richest rice planters and slave dealers in the Colony of South Carolina. Rice planters in coastal South Carolina and Georgia were willing to pay high prices for people brought from the Rice Coast of West Africa where farmers had been growing rice for hundreds of years and were experts at its cultivation.

African rice-growing know-how was essential to the prosperity of the American rice industry. Henry Laurens acted as Bunce Island’s business agent in Charleston, receiving the castle’s human cargoes from Sierra Leone and advertising and selling the African captives at auction. Laurens took a 10% commission on each sale, returning the profits to Oswald in London, often in the form of rice paid by South Carolina planters.

Bunce Island’s history illustrates the complex economic relationship between the West African Rice Coast and Great Britain’s Southern Colonies. Its records show that Henry Laurens sent his own ships directly to Bunce Island to obtain slaves for his newly opened rice plantations in coastal Georgia, paying for them with ship-building supplies made from Carolina pine. The Bunce Island’s records also show that Henry Laurens helped his British business partner, Richard Oswald, open up new plantations near St. Augustine, and that Oswald dispatched a number of his skilled African workers directly from Bunce Island to build his plantations in Florida.

Bunce Island also illustrates the slave trade’s political impact in North America. During the American Revolutionary War the French, jealous of Bunce Island’s commercial success, took the opportunity of their alliance with the American colonists to attack and destroy the castle in 1779. Thus, a battle of the American Revolution was actually fought on Bunce Island. But even more important, Henry Laurens, who had grown rich from the trade in African slave labor, became President of the Continental Congress and later US envoy to Holland. Captured by the British and imprisoned in the Tower of London, he was bailed out of jail by his friend Richard Oswald. Later, Laurens and Oswald sat across the table from one another at the Paris negotiations that led to American independence. Thus, US independence was negotiated, in part, between Bunce Island’s British owner and his long-time agent for the sale of Rice Coast Africans in South Carolina.

Bunce Island also illustrates the enduring family ties between the Gullah people — African Americans living today in coastal South Carolina and Georgia — and their Rice Coast cousins. In recent years Gullah people have made two well-publicized pilgrimages to Bunce Island. In 1989, Emory Campbell, Director of Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, led a group of Gullahs to Bunce Island in a tearful journey memorably recorded in the PBS documentary “Family Across the Sea.” In 1997, Mary Moran and her family from Harris Neck, Georgia visited Bunce Island on their trip to Sierra Leone to meet the Mende people who share an ancient African song they have retained in their family for generations here in America. Mrs. Moran’s visit is recorded in the documentary, “The Language You Cry In.”

bunce island sl

Street Dancing
street dancing

Like many other developing countries, Sierra Leone struggles with the conflict surrounding natural resource exploitation and issues like greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity conservation and eco-tourism potential. Huge areas of the original rich rain forest habitat have been removed or severely damaged by slash and burn, however there are some examples of habitat conservation, such as the Gola Forest.

A rainforest in Sierra Leone has won protection from the country’s government for an indefinite period in a move heralded as one of the first examples of a state using forest conservation to cut its carbon emissions.

The news came as the UN climate change conference in Bali enters its critical final week. Thousands of delegates from almost 200 countries are attending the summit, to discuss how to cut greenhouse gas emissions after current Kyoto protocol targets expire in 2012. So far, progress has been slow, with the US remaining the only developed country to have refused to ratify the treaty.

President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone is expected today to back the plans to make the 185,000-acre Gola Forest, about half the size of London, the nation’s second national park. This will protect at least 50 species of mammal, 2,000 different plants and 274 species of bird, 14 of which are close to extinction.

It is hoped that Gola, close to the Liberian border in the south-east of the west African country, will become the flagship site in a network of national parks planned by the President. Six more are due to be established in the future, to develop the country’s tourist industry as it recovers from the civil war that tore it apart in the 1990s.

The Gola project is being jointly funded by the European Commission, the French government, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the United States-based Conservation International.

Alistair Gammell, the international director of the RSPB, said: “We are helping the government turn a logging forest into a protected forest. Huge amounts of carbon will be saved and the site is an excellent example to those now involved in climate talks in Bali. It is showing how richer countries can help poorer countries protect wildlife, support local communities and tackle climate change.”

More than 100,000 people from local communities will be paid annually to replace earlier royalties linked to logging and diamond mining in the forest, and scientists will be encouraged to study Gola’s wildlife in the hope of creating a hub for the increasingly popular practice of eco-tourism.

The European Commission and the French government are contributing more than 3m towards the project, training hundreds of staff to patrol the forest’s boundaries, monitor wildlife and run education programmes. A 6m trust fund is also being established to cover the park’s running costs and the annual payments to local communities.

Gola is part of the Upper Guinea Forest, which once spread itself across five countries. Less than 30 per cent of it remains, following hundreds of years of aggressive deforestation for the sake of timber, agriculture and charcoal. The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone launched a project to save the forest 15 years ago, but during the civil war, from 1991 to 2002, work was suspended and the government became powerless to protect it. The forest is home to leopards, chimpanzees and forest elephants, as well as hundreds of rare species of bird.

Meanwhile, the President of Guyana, in South America, recently proposed placing his country’s entire 50 million-acre forest, almost the combined size of England and Scotland, under a British-led international body in return for securing aid for sustainable development and technical assistance in switching to green industries.

Sierra Leone Wildlife

Amongst the hussle and bussle of Freetown or scouring the road for an oncoming pudapuda or taxi crabbing at you, it is easy to miss some of the beautiful animals in this colourful place.
I love these lizards, the Agama agama, which are everywhere and are real characters, from scurrying out to catch a fallen insect to the push ups the males do whilst posing.