(Business in Cameroon) - French mining giant Eramet has announced its exit from the Akonolinga rutile project in Cameroon. The company has stated it is stepping out for “economic and environmental reasons” after four years of research on the project.
Feasibility studies revealed that the economic justifications were not met to support a responsible and profitable industrial project, the group announced in a statement released on October 26. Eramet, which holds several permits on this site, clarified that exploiting it would demand "considerable investments" due to its extensive area, low rutile content, and the fine nature of the deposit. This would be compounded by the expenses associated with water and ultrafine management, potentially impacting the environment. "No investor is prepared to inject €180 million (over 118 billion CFA francs) into a project to earn only €30 million (less than 20 billion CFA francs) in five or six years," declared Loïse Tamalgo, Managing Director of Eramet Cameroun and the group's general delegate in Africa, according to comments relayed by Cameroun Tribune.
Loïse Tamalgo stated that the nearly 2,000 holes drilled on the site led to the conclusion that only "a quarter" of the resources identified had a grade sufficient for economically viable mining. Eramet had planned to mine 100,000 tons of rutile per year for 20 years. In the end, however, it turned out that only 35,000 tons per year could be extracted, according to the acting Minister of Mines, Fuh Calistus Gentry.
In its press release, Eramet also stated that mining the deposit would create "too high a risk" for ecosystems and the living environment of local populations, making it impossible to implement a "responsible industrial project". The group was not sure that the water that would be discharged during the operating phase would be clean and that populations would be safe from the potential damage it could cause. "No one would forgive us in Cameroon or anywhere else," said Loïse Tamalgo.
Consequently, the Group has opted against proceeding with the project. Following this decision, the company affirms it will support the closure of its exploration activities in Akonolinga from a social and environmental perspective, focusing on site rehabilitation. Furthermore, they will return all permits, samples, and the entirety of the technical, environmental, and societal knowledge acquired to the Cameroonian state.
The "Mbappe" pilot plant, intended for rutile processing at the site, will reportedly be offered to the Cameroonian government for a nominal sum of one euro. Additionally, the teams will be gradually disbanded through a negotiated social plan. Eramet also pledges to leave a positive local impact in Akonolinga by funding a program for local development, aligning with its global commitments.
The government has supported the group's decision, lauding their transparent approach. However, according to the Minister of Mines, Cameroon intends to proceed with the project, albeit with modifications. "We will scale down the project and explore options for extracting 10,000 tons of ore annually, possibly with a smaller-scale company," he said.