In Côte d’Ivoire, the development of a green economy requires universities

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On the Bonikro gold industrial site, 50 km from Yamoussokro, the administrative capital of Côte d'Ivoire.

Standing in front of a huge geological map stuck to the wall of one of the research laboratories he supervises, Alphonse Kouakou Yao reviews the underground riches of Côte d’Ivoire. Manganese, iron, nickel, bauxite, petroleum… The elegant professor dressed in a chestnut tweed blaser and a pink tie is inexhaustible on the deposits of his country. But one ore, above all, catches his attention: gold. ” Today, he explains to his students, it is found in quantity almost everywhere in the country. This is good news for the national GDP, less for our environment. And that’s where we come in. “

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Whether in its industrial and legal version or illegal and artisanal – the estimated number of illegal miners varies between 1 million and 1.5 million – gold mining is a polluting practice. To dig holes and galleries, you have to clear the land. And processing the ore requires the use of cyanide and mercury, two substances that poison water and soil as well as flora and fauna. However, the director of the Higher School of Mines and Geology at the National Polytechnic Institute Félix Houphouët-Boigny (INPHB) in Yamoussoukro refuses to oppose the “Mining boom” that his country is experiencing and the transition to an economy that is more respectful of the environment.

Faced with rapid development and “Inevitable” of a sector which represented 5% of the GDP in 2020 against less than 1% in 2010, the teacher has been struggling for several years to “Green” engineering courses to ensure that “Environmental concern” or at the heart of learning.

Emergency

Introduced to innovative exploration and exploitation techniques, its students are encouraged in particular to develop methods to recover mine waste, for example by transforming it into bricks and granules for the construction industry. For gold panning, they learn to reduce the use of cyanide and mercury and to better understand the direct environment in which it is practiced. Gold miners associations are also invited to the INPHB to develop the ” good practices “ mining and stop devastating the banks of rivers with pickaxes.

Geological prospecting, treatment of minerals and wastewater, site closure: Alphonse Kouakou Yao wants to believe that the entire mine cycle can be “Ecologically more virtuous” while remaining a source of employment for the future engineers and highly qualified technicians that he trains each year. The professor does not preach in the desert: in Côte d’Ivoire, the “greening” of courses has concerned all scientific professionalizing disciplines since the mid-2010s. Innovation competitions, in particular those concerning the treatment of agricultural waste, have multiplied across the country.

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Within the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, it is hoped that these new methods deemed to be more sustainable will “Infuse into society and the economy” and that they will ultimately have an impact on youth unemployment. In March 2021, a study carried out jointly by the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development with the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that nearly one million green jobs could be created by 2025, particularly in the sectors of agriculture, agroforestry, renewable energies and urban waste treatment.

And there is urgency. In sixty years, Côte d’Ivoire has lost between 80% to 90% of its forest cover, mainly due to cocoa cultivation which makes the country the world’s leading producer of cocoa. To stem the phenomenon, the country has launched several initiatives to replant, within ten years, nearly 20% of its forest cover. An ambition that Abidjan will defend during the COP26 which opened on Sunday October 31 in Glasgow.

“Very recent green consciousness”

If the results are long overdue, it is because Côte d’Ivoire is starting from afar. The decade of strong growth that the country experienced between 2010 and 2020 was mainly driven by the agricultural, energy and mining sectors, as well as by construction and transport. Activities that have made it possible to create jobs accessible to low-skilled youth, but have largely contributed to disseminating ultra-productivist methods with little regard for the environment. In these sectors that emit a large amount of greenhouse gases, “Green consciousness is only very recent”, says Tite Ehuitché Beke, environmental economist at the Ivorian Center for Economic and Social Research (CIRES).

Côte d’Ivoire’s ambition by 2030 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28%. More generally, the growing need for certification and the growing importance of so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies have “Urged public and private actors in Côte d’Ivoire to rethink existing production methods and, consequently, human resource needs”, explains the economist.

But the academic invites to “Monitor the role” what can private companies play in the development of academic courses because, if concern for the preservation of the environment must be at the heart of production, it is not for the private sector to “Shape the green professions of the future as they see fit”. A drift that does not frighten Professor Yao. “Our sectors, he recalls, are part of the sustainable development objectives and it is not the private sector that defines them. “

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In Côte d’Ivoire, the development of a green economy requires universities

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