Madagascar: far from the madding crowd

Jon Lawson

Thorsten Poszwa explains how Madagascar’s resurgent resource sector is helping to power its economic growth– with construction equipment playing a key role

Located in the Indian Ocean just over 400km off the eastern coast of Africa, across the Mozambique Channel, Madagascar is a relatively poor country by Western standards. Despite having a population of over 25 million people, it has only 7,617km of paved roads. Although poor in monetary terms, the country is rich in resources. Its 592,800km2 land mass – which makes it the fourth-largest island in the world behind Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo – contains the world's largest reserves of ilmenite (titanium ore), as well as important reserves of chromite, coal, iron, cobalt, copper and nickel.

The island, which sits just above the equator, contains huge variations in geography – high mountain ranges, deep valleys and huge flood plains – and an extreme climate – a hot, rainy season from November to April; and a cooler, dry season from May to October. All of which makes the development of those resources difficult and logistically challenging.

Mirror finish

Despite these challenges, chromite production is the country’s major mineral export and state-owned Kraomita Malagasy is the largest and, so far, sole producer of chromites. Kraomita exports 100% of its output, which ranges from 100,000 to 140,000 tonnes of chromium per year, delivered mainly to China and Japan, making Madagascar the world's 10th largest chrome producer.

Chromium is used in metallurgy, for chrome plating and the production of high-speed steel tools; in the dyeing industry to produce various pigments, including, chrome yellow, red and green; the production of synthetic rubies; as a wood preservative; as a tanning agent; as a refractory material; and as a catalyst.

As one of the newest mines, the company operates high in the northern hinterlands, near Brieville in the Betsiboka Region. It’s here that family-owned and operated contractor Mandimbisoa is working on the removal of overburden and extraction of chrome.

With work possible only nine months of the year, due to the rainy season, Mandimbisoa’s Volvo machines – a new EC380DL tracked excavator and two L150F wheel loaders – work 10 hour days, six days a week.

Powered by a Volvo 208kW/283hp D13F, Tier 4i/Stage IIIB engine, the 38 tonne EC380DL is solely responsible for filling the 10 strong fleet of trucks that feed the mine’s processing plant – making machine uptime crucially important.

Once excavated, rock and concentrate production is transported the 480km to Toamasina port, first by road from Brieville to Morarano (90km) and then by rail (390km) before being exported. At the mine’s second site, located 16km away, Mandimbisoa is now digging down to the chrome seam, from where another 20,000 tonnes of chrome is to be extracted.

“The new EC380DL is a great machine,” says Mandimbisoa’s Tina Rakotomiarana. “We’re pleased with the high levels of availability, excellent fuel efficiency and productivity we’ve had since purchasing the machine in June 2015. The aftersales service from Materauto has also been exceptional, especially given the logistics of servicing a machine in such a remote and difficult location.

All three machines were purchased through Volvo Construction Equipment’s local dealer, Materauto, headquartered in the capital Antananarivo. Maintenance and servicing were originally carried out by Materauto’s Volvo-certified engineers, under a bespoke customer support agreement, at its Fort Dauphine facility in the very south of the country.

Even though the mine is only 350km from the capital, this is a 10 hour drive in a 4x4, which made timely repairs and preventative maintenance both costly and time consuming. So, with a quick response time being important – if and when a technician is needed on site for service or repair – they now fly into the mine’s own airstrip, recently dug into the side of one of the surrounding hills, slashing the journey time to just 20 minutes.

“Being able to fly to the mine means we can now offer a quicker repair and maintenance service,” says Materauto’s Solofo Rabezanahary. “The drive to the mine from our facility could be hampered by landslides and other traffic, meaning we were not always able to respond as quickly as we would have liked. Transporting larger items was difficult, while our engineers were away for days, even for the simplest of service, or maintenance requirements. Now, we can respond in a much more timely fashion, allowing Mandimbisoa to maintain high levels of productivity. A win-win for them and Kraomita Malagasy!”

Thorsten Poszwa is with Volvo Construction Equipment.