From Limestone into Toothpaste

English
 

 

 

23

FEB 2016

From limestone into toothpaste: the legacy of capacity building with Jamaica's Mining and Geology Division

Caribbean / Jamaica

The ACP-EU Development Minerals programme is building on the legacy of UNDP's prior work with Jamaica's Mining and Geology Division.

Imagine the excitement of being one of the first government offices in Jamaica to be provided with computers, to see your secretaries move from typewriters to word processors, and to have your Mining and Geology Division move from producing basic geological maps to undertaking technical analysis of minerals.

All these changes and more took place in the 1980s in the island as a result of the UNDP-supported project "Exploration and Development of Non-Metallic Minerals," implemented by the then Geology and Survey Division.

Mr. Lawrence Henry, former Assistant Commissioner of Jamaica's Mines and Geology Division, recalls how the project began.

"The project started officially in 1987 but as you know a lot of preparatory work had to be done before the start….I was a Senior Geologist when the project started. Dr. A.J. Geddes was the Director of the Geological Survey Division and he was the lead person to get this project off the ground."

Valued at a little over US$500,000, the initiative aimed to increase and promote investment in Jamaica's non-metallic minerals sector by strengthening the Geological Survey Division's ability to identify, develop and promote non-metallic mineral opportunities for investment purposes.

The capacity building component was very successful and led to a number of changes in infrastructure and staff skills and experience.

Mr. Henry notes that for him, as the former local lead officer on the project, the capacity building component was very successful and led to a number of changes in infrastructure and staff skills and experience.

"What I think was important about this project was the institutional strengthening. We got a lab to do analysis of rocks collected…We got about five computers to support the project and strengthen the division. I believe we were one of the first government departments to get computers to work with, based on that time period. We were able to do maps – precursors to today's GIS. We got computer programmes that could do interpretation and help with the analysis."

He notes that the training was not just for technical staff but also for the administrative staff. Secretaries were trained in the use of word processors provided under the project.

"We had this equipment for all our work and we were trained to use it……The training for the staff was excellent. It went well. In fact it went so well that one of the overseas experts actually married one of the staff members!" he remembers, laughing.

The capacity building which took place under the UNDP project transformed a national institution to help it better support the country's development.

The capacity building which took place under the UNDP project transformed a national institution to help it better support the country's development.

"This project made Mines and Geology more relevant. Prior to this, we were just seen as an agency that produced geological maps, and in truth that was what we did. The island was divided into 20 map sheets and we did maps to show rock types. These maps were useful for planning, identifying water resources and things like that, but our work then was just palaeontology. We did not really do any chemistry. With the project we could now really look at minerals…..There was more focus on chemistry, on the make-up of the minerals and what products they could be used for. "

It was this ability to demonstrate the possible uses of local minerals that helped the project achieve its objectives.

"At the time….Jamaica was just mainly using limestone for aggregate. How the project helped was to build our ability to see how we could use limestone for more value-added products like whitener, toothpaste and other things….These non-metallic minerals, as simple as they are, are used in every sector of life….They are used for paint, plastics, rubber, light-weight aggregate. They are very valuable," Mr. Henry explains.

The project did attract potential investors. Project reports indicate that after a year of implementation, there were 18 local and overseas companies interested in investing in Jamaica's limestone, clays and ceramics, marble and dolomite. A market study by an international expert looked at potential markets for Jamaica's minerals and products.

Mr. Henry notes that Jamaica's successful development of a high-value limestone export industry was built on the work done under the project.

"The project was extended so many times….because with everything that was done it showed us how we could go further. It showed new opportunities for the country," he recalls.

The laboratory facilities built under the UNDP project were upgraded under a Canadian-funded initiative in the 1990s that continued improvements to the technical capacity of the division.

"The country benefited a lot and now this low-value minerals project with the ACP is actually a spin-off, it builds on the gains made under that previous project," Mr Henry says.

 

Now, almost thirty years later, UNDP is preparing to support a new project with the Mining and Geology Division. This project will be funded through the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States-European Union (ACP-EU) Development Minerals programme that aims to build the profile and improve the management of low-value minerals in six focus countries including Jamaica.

This article was published at UNDP Jamaica 'Articles,' under the title 'Jamaica and UNDP: Mining Development Success in the Minerals Industry' February 23, 2016.

 

Photo:Head of the Mining and Geology Division, AJ Geddes, points out the operations for the Mono Blade Saw, acquired under the project, to Mining and Energy Minister, Hugh Hart, while Saw Operator Steve Strudwick keeps an eye on the blade. Photo Credit: Mines and Geology Division.