ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast will start extracting iron ore and nickel from proven deposits in its west and exporting them via a planned rail link to the port of San Pedro by 2014, the state mining company said on Tuesday.
The West African nation is better known for its cocoa, which feeds two thirds of world demand, than minerals, but the government wants to diversify the economy and is looking to potentially rich seams of gold, nickel and iron ore to do so.
“The aim is to have minerals contribute 8-10 percent to our Gross Domestic Product within the next decade,” state mining company director Kadjo Kouame told Reuters.
“We want to be a great mining nation.”
Tata Steel owns a concession in the area and Kouame said it contained 510 million tonnes of iron ore that would be extracted at a rate of 12 million tonnes a year.
Another 1.2 billion concession majority held by an American-Israeli company called Valleymist would produce 12 million tonnes a year, he said, making 24 million tonnes in total.
Two nickel mines majority-owned by Canada’s Tau Group would start producing 120,000 tonnes around the same time.
West Africa is becoming a hotspot for industrial exploitation of iron ore, with multinational companies like BHP Billiton, ArcelorMittal and Brazil’s Vale vying for the metal in Guinea, Gabon and Liberia.
A 2002-3 war divided the world’s top grower of cocoa in two, leaving its north and west — as well as virtually all its proven deposits of metals — in the hands of rebels.
But an election meant to resolve the crisis is set for October 31 and looks increasingly likely to happen, paving the way for a return of investment into the region’s former star economy, provided any disputes over results can be quickly resolved.
A new rail link would be built starting 2014 to carry iron ore and nickel but also coffee and cocoa to San Pedro.
Investors would be invited to bid on the project before that date, Kouame said.