(The following is a translated excerpt from an article published in LE PAYS on February 20th 2018
“If you’ve ever seen the movie “Blood Diamond” with Leonardo DiCaprio (E. Zwick, 2006), then you can easily imagine what life is like for artisanal miners in West Africa. But did you know that if a drop of water hits the sandy soil of the Sahel, very quickly a small flower will start to grow? Now imagine if you will, that this drop of water is a nugget of gold… For far too long, the extractive industry in Africa and elsewhere have been synonymous with injustice, poverty, violence and trafficking of all kinds. Barksanem™ in the local language of Burkina Faso means “Gold is a Blessing”. That is our declaration to Africa, our commitment to the African people, that gold mining becomes a “blessing” for its people and the people of the African continent.” – Etienne Atger
Le Pays: The economic landscape of West Africa, as well as its place in the world of gold mining and the incentive policies of various governments are among the main reasons that motivated the Burkinabe mining company, Barksanem™, to see the light of day in 2011. With its unique vision of sustainable development and to be more in tune with local dynamics, Barksanem™ performed extensive R&D over the following years. But now, this mining company resurfaces and will be operational again in the next few months in Burkina Faso and soon in other parts of West Africa. To understand more about the evolution of things and get to know the company better, we spoke with Etienne Atger, CEO of Barksanem™. He tells us that the expertise of Barksanem™ will be available through a “Barksanem™ License” across West Africa and internationally, says Etienne Atger, the entire Barksanem™ team is finalizing this License for its upcoming commercialization
It is said that where the gold is, the curse is not far. So why did you choose to name your company “Barksanem™” which means “Gold is a Blessing” in the Moore language?
Etienne Atger: Our experience in the mining sector in Africa demonstrates the following: the harvesting of subsoil wealth is too often a source of poverty, conflict, environmental degradation symptomatic of a vicious economic circle. Faced with these dynamics, we chose to stop our mining work for a number of years to work on concrete solutions. Our goal is to eradicate the resource curse found in mineral producing countries. We chose the name “Barksanem™”, which became obvious and a statement of intent that our Burkina Faso friends could easily perceive!
Le Pays: What makes Barksanem™ unique?
Etienne Atger: Barksanem™ is a Burkinabe mining company created in 2011, then put on hold for a few years in order to find solutions to problems encountered in the mining space. The creation of Barksanem™ (BSM™) www.barksanem.com/ was brought about after field observations and a clear vision of territorial sustainable development, in line with the challenges of transformation described in various international charters. Based on our research and our previous mining experience in early 2000, we have created a sister company in the USA that will market and sell a portfolio of technologies (mining operations, tracking, digital currency…) targeting the economic and environmental autonomy of micro-collectivities (50 to 500 population equivalents). Specifically relating to mining collectivities, our core target, our approach integrates the extraction and monetization of minerals, essential support of economic autonomy, crucial prerequisites to energy and ecological autonomy through the decontamination of water, air and soil.
Barksanem™ is a unique business that includes support for the local populations. CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility is not a division of the business with a focus on humanitarian aid, but rather a Social Economy completely and totally intrinsic to the business model. We worked to develop partnerships with experts in different fields: environment, agriculture, education, health, etc.
Le Pays: Mining companies sometimes have trouble getting along with the populations where they are located. One of the reasons often lies in the issue of youth employment in the collectivity. Do you have a policy that addresses this issue?
Etienne Atger: We call our unique approach the “Territorial Approach”. This approach takes into consideration all thelocal dynamics and problems of a given territory, to work in harmony with the traditional authorities as well as administrative and specially to integrate the mining activities and all those ancillary projects with it, with the life and to the development of this territory. In other words, Barksanem™ becomes an intricate part of this territory. In doing so, one of the first initiatives of the company is to integrate the available local population and particularly the young people. This recruitment is done in direct consultation with the chiefdoms and in such a way that the works these young people could also be involved with do not suffer (this is particularly important for the work of the fields in the rainy season). For each mining related activity, training will be provided so that everyone finds his place.
Le Pays: What foundational pillars does your company base its projects on?
Etienne Atger: The core team that makes up the management of Barksanem™ clearly demonstrates additional expertise essential to the fulfillment of our intentions. Knowledge of the continent and in particular of the West Africa region, knowledge of artisanal mining professions, knowledge of development and sustainable development in particular, managerial skills, etc., are some of the elements of our collective CV! Beyond this, we are aware of what is at stake and the limits of our skills, we knew how to surround ourselves with perfectly complementary partners with expertise in the creation of digital currency, traceability, but also in the field of water saving agriculture development, soil remediation, depollution, health monitoring, etc.
Le Pays: What is behind the offer of “Barksanem™” in terms of sustainable economic development through mining innovation?
Etienne Atger: Barksanem™’s intention is not to exploit the riches of the subsoil until they are exhausted and then to leave. Through our approach, our intentions and our skills, we want an implantation area to be on a concrete path of development, maintaining the respect of the local traditions, and this, well after our departure. That is why, in our approach, we integrate training not only to enhance human, natural and economic resources of a territory (in the mining domain in order to improve the practices, but as well in the field of the environment and the land management with arable-reforestation for example – with water saving agricultural development, etc.), but also by the creation of a digital currency, endorsed by banks, to favor the barter economy, and still propose the banking of unbanked. This particular aspect would also enable the newly-banked to have access to a number of services contributing to development (micro-loans, health monitoring, education, etc.).
Le Pays: What benefit does Barksanem™ bring to rural populations in terms of its social and environmental responsibility?
Etienne Atger: One of the principles of Barksanem™ is summed up in this slogan: “innovation in respect of tradition”©. Ultimately, while making it possible to become a prosperous mining company, the BSM™ License contributes to producing, through mining, virtuous dynamics for the micro-collectivities with economic, social and environmental development: Agricultural projects (economic alternatives for women and children), education, health, access to water and sanitation, energy solutions … Soil and surface water remediation, arable land remediation, reforestation, phytomining (the use of plants to extract gold from soil)). The identification and registration of these miners on Barksanem™ sites, but also elsewhere, will provide access to information, so far very incomplete, with a population difficult to accompany due to its mobility, its fragility and integration difficulties encountered in many places in the country as in most countries where mining is at the heart of their economy.
Barksanem™’s mission is to build a sustainable economic mining model.
- Making Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) a sustainable, viable economic practice
- Digitizing and Virtualizing our entire logistics chain creating a unique proprietary End-to-End Secure Logistics Chain from extraction shaft to end- consumer
- Converting mineral capital into other forms of resources to create a dynamic circular economy, ensuring positive social, economic and environmental development in micro-collectivities
- Integrating intrinsically a “Territorial Approach” into each entrepreneurial activity within an overall economic context of opportunities and challenges, in relation with stakeholders in the target territory
- Creating a platform of training in access to water, agricultural development and sanitation