Lucara Botswana: developing communities in Africa
Naseem Lahri, Managing Director of Lucara Botswana, discusses industry trends and 2020 predictions within the diamond mining industry.
Could you tell me a little bit about your company and your role at the company?
Lucara Botswana is a diamond mining company operating the Karowe Mine located 20km outside of Letlhakane in north central Botswana. Lucara Botswana is 100% owned by the public Canadian company Lucara Diamond Corp that is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), Nasdaq Stockholm and the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) under the trading symbol LUC.
Karowe is known for being one of the world’s foremost producers of large, gem quality, Type IIA diamonds in excess of 10.8 carats. In April this year, we recovered the 1,758 carat Sewelo, the largest diamond recovered in Botswana’s history. This puts Karowe as the only mine in recorded history to have produced two diamonds greater than 1,000 carats in weight, the first such recoveries in over 100 years!
Last month, we announced the positive economics of an underground feasibility study that would double the mine life to 2040. We are also very proud of the fact that 98% of our workforce are Batswana and we use a high proportion of citizen employees within the contractors too. We also prioritise sustainability at Lucara, and are a signatory of the UN Global compact, actively contributing to 10 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
My role is Managing Director of Lucara Botswana, and I am the first Motswana woman to hold this position in a diamond mining company in the country. I manage the company, develop and implement strategic objectives and build and foster strategic relationships for the company. My goal has been to make Lucara Botswana an employer of choice, to ensure a safe mining operation and to see Karowe become the first productive underground diamond mine in Botswana. My role as Managing Director is also to ensure that the company looks at sustainability beyond life of mine by equipping the communities in the area with sustainable projects to enable continuity without disruption.
It is an honour to hold the role of Managing Director at Lucara Botswana as it allows me to have a direct impact on the communities and the development of my country.
What are the current trends within your industry?
Both rough and polished diamond prices have been under pressure throughout 2019 (-20 to 30% YoY) due to both industry specific and macro-economic factors, such as; demonetization of the Rupee; lending restrictions from Indian banks to manufacturers, and demand impacted by the US and China trade discussions and pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Lucara Botswana’s approach to the pricing pressure has been to control what we can. So, speaking to operational efficiencies such as cost control and ensuring maximum high value ore to ensure that we don’t see negative impacts to our business.
Longer term, diamond prices are expected to improve as many large mines approach the end of their mine life (Argyle, Victor) with no new major development projects or discoveries in the pipeline. We have also, along with other diamond producers, started to see some stability in rough diamond prices.
We, as an industry, also need to be aware of the influence of laboratory grown diamonds (LGD) and the impact on demand. Lucara Diamond Corp. is a member of the Diamond Producer’s Association (DPA) which contributed to a report with Trucost earlier this year, where it was highlighted that diamond mining (from 75% of the world’s production) has a $16 billion net positive socioeconomic and environmental benefit and that the estimated CO2 emissions from LGD are in fact three times greater than mined diamonds.
What makes your company competitive?
There are several things which make Lucara competitive diamond producers. We have been operating as a small, high margin diamond producer since 2012, renowned for our production of large, high value, type IIA diamonds with additional recoveries of high value yellow, pink, and blue diamonds of note.
Karowe is the first diamond mine in the world to incorporate Tomra supplied sensor based bulk sorting that utilises XRT technology as primary diamond recovery method, ensuring recovery of large high value diamonds as soon as possible in the recovery circuit and it is also the only mine in history to have produced two over 1000 carat diamonds.
Lucara has a strong focus on safety and ensuring everyone that works at Karowe is educated on safety. This is reflected in our safety record, achieved over two years without a lost time incident. I am extremely proud to mention that the Karowe first aid team won the Botswana Chamber of Mines First Aid Safety Competition in 2019 – a first for the mine, and an amazing accomplishment celebrated by all employees and contractors. We are sure this will be the first win of many!
And lastly, Lucara Botswana was the first diamond producer to sell diamonds on CLARA. Clara Diamond Solutions Corp. (CLARA) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lucara, which has developed a secure, digital sales platform that uses proprietary analytics together with cloud and blockchain technologies to modernize the existing diamond supply chain, driving efficiencies, unlocking value and ensuring diamond provenance from mine to finger. CLARA allows certainty of provenance and maximises revenue through providing buyers with the specific rough to meet their polished diamond requirements
What innovations has your company been developing during 2019?
The first would be the sale of diamonds through CLARA. Using Clara, manufacturers purchase rough diamonds by submitting their optimal polished stone parameters. Clara automatically matches rough stones with manufacturers’ orders on a stone-by-stone basis. It is a technology-driven platform that is transforming the rough diamond supply chain with material benefits for both buyers and sellers by ensuring that the right stone is bought by the right buyer at Optimum value via a fully transparent method so that all parties benefit.
What are your predictions for the industry in 2020?
The view for Lucara Botswana is that we will continue to sell through the CLARA platform and with the early works for the underground mining operations at Karowe. It is also our view that the rough diamond market will start to see an increase in demand and pricing across all sizes and qualities. Lucara Botswana is well positioned to take advantage of increased demand and a competitive pricing environment
We also look forward to the optimisation of XRT circuit and improvements to material handling using proprietary tracking devices in ore feed. I cannot say too much about this at the moment, but we see this as a step forward in our diamond processing circuit!
Is there any exciting news you’d like to share with our readers at Business Chief?
Absolutely! Lucara Botswana is excited about the opportunity to continue with our stakeholder engagement and sustainability programs and to grow those investments as we work to extend the mine life at Karowe.
We have also completed our analysis of the Sewelo and are in the process of exploring a partnership to unlock its potential. We will provide more details about this in the new year.
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