Turning challenge into opportunity
In the 1990s, Rio Tinto began evaluating the feasibility of developing of what would become QMM. The potentially viable deposits of minerals sands, containing high quality ilmenite, were located along a coastline consisting of some of Madagascar’s most threatened coastal forests. The region was economically underdeveloped, and the people in the region had limited access to clean drinking water, health, and education services.
Developing a large mine in a socially and environmentally vulnerable setting presented many challenges, but it also offered significant opportunities for local employment, social capacity-building, and economic development, while also addressing long-term environmental issues.
Given the complexity of both the challenges and opportunities, Rio Tinto sought the advice of two independent teams of experts under the International Independent Advisory Panel and the Biodiversity Steering Committee. These experts provided advice during the early stages of development, through construction, and into full production on a host of issues aimed at ensuring QMM was a partner that delivered win-win solutions for the local communities and environment programmes.
International Independent Advisory Panel
The Independent International Advisory Panel (IIAP) was assembled in 1999, as the first panel of its kind in Madagascar, and consisted of international development economist Keith Bezanson, primatologist and conservationist Alison Jolly, environmental economist and Director of Conservation International in Madagascar Léon Rajaobelina, and, from 2006, engineer and environmentalist Jacques Gérin.
The big question the panel tried to address at the outset was whether the region would be better with or without the mining project. Over their 15 year tenure, they provided a forum for honest and frank discussion on the environmental, social, economic, and institutional issues related to the project. The panel provided feedback on a range of work undertaken by Rio Tinto including the project’s Social Environmental Impact Assessment and shared best practice from other projects.
The panel concluded their work in 2015, and have documented their history and the lessons learned during their time with QMM in their ‘End of Mission’ report. This report serves as a valuable catalogue for Rio Tinto – and others – on the sustainability and partnership elements of a complex mineral development project.
The work of the panel was fundamental and set a significant precedent for QMM which continues to influence the company today. A new slate of panel members, which includes Claude Andreas, former Minister of Agriculture and now Director General of the Société Soavoanio (the largest coconut producer in the country), and Robert Calderisi, economist and former senior World Bank official for missions in Africa, has assembled to continue to provide advice on the project.
Independent Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management Committee
In 2003, an independent committee of globally recognized biodiversity experts was formed to provide external perspectives and advice on implementing the Rio Tinto biodiversity strategy. The Biodiversity Committee assisted QMM with the implementation of its Biodiversity programme, specifically with the preparation and maintenance of a biodiversity monitoring plan, the biodiversity monograph and other biodiversity technical issues, including ecological restoration.
The committee was instrumental in working in collaboration with Rio Tinto and QMM in the validation of the methodology required to establish the Net Positive Impact Biodiversity Forecast and the development of a set of appropriate metrics for each group of biodiversity values including threatened species, rare habitats or non-timber forest products.
Rio Tinto and QMM are committed to achieving locally sensitive and effective biodiversity management and preservation. This includes management of the avoidance zones within the three mining reserves and offset sites as community managed protected areas, a commitment to no species loss due to mining, restoration of natural habitats (littoral forest and wetlands), and the requirement to deliver community access to a range of natural resources and ecosystems services.
Building off the foundation and lessons learned of more than a decade of work, as well as the evolving expectations of key stakeholders, a renewed Independent Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management Committee was formed and conducted its first meeting in early 2018. Members include experts in biodiversity, community management of natural resources and local stakeholder engagement.
This committee's mandate is to contribute to QMM's Biodiversity, Natural Resources and Communities Programme by:
- Providing strategic insight on biodiversity and natural resource management issues;
- Advising on implementation of the mitigation hierarchy for biodiversity;
- Advising on natural resources provision and stewardship; and,
- Reviewing annual progress.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) serves a facilitator for the committee and coordinates the committee’s annual review meeting and supports the development of the agendas and public reports from these meetings.