This report examines the opportunities for using technology solutions in responsible minerals production and sourcing in the DRC. It explores the DRC context in terms of technology penetration, maps out existing technology solutions and analyses lessons learnt from their application, including the views of stakeholders. Through this multi-perspective approach, the research provides insights into the opportunities presented by technology as well as the pre-conditions and enabling environment required for technology to contribute effectively to responsible minerals production and sourcing. While technology applications play a central role in terms of increasing efficiency, promoting transparency and scaling impact, the report also addresses some limitations, emphasising the role of pre-existing processes, behaviours and stakeholder engagement in responsible minerals production and sourcing.
Mapping technology solutions for responsible minerals production and sourcing in the DRC
To understand the existing scope of the technology sector to support responsible minerals production and sourcing, the research mapped against set criteria existing technology applications operational in the DRC or with potential to deploy in the region. The mapping identified 19 different solutions from which 7 detailed case studies were drawn.
The solutions covered in this research illustrate the wide scope of the applications that already exist in the responsible minerals production and sourcing field. The existing initiatives present different levels of maturity, where some have been implemented for some time and others are still in development or piloting stage. They can be categorised into:
- Due diligence platforms
- Traceability systems
- Geospatial data
- Data collection and monitoring
- Solutions for education
Through research with stakeholders within and outside of the DRC, every effort was made to include all those that fit within the criteria. However, the sector is rapidly developing, and the list is not guaranteed to be exhaustive. The mapping process also focused on presenting a diversity of types of technology in use, including with regard to those solutions not yet applied within the DRC.
How Technology penetration in the DRC shapes opportunities for technology use in responsible mineral prouction and sourcing
The main indicators used to understand technology penetration and therefore the feasibility of technology solutions in the DRC include access to electricity, mobile phone connection and internet access. These indicators are clearly central to the development of technology solutions in the minerals sector, which need electricity for power, and network access to collect and share information. They present a picture of low but growing penetration.
- Access to electricity is clearly a fundamental enabler of technology applications, yet in 2018 only 19.1% of the total population of the DRC had access to electricity despite the immense potential of energy production in the country.
- Mobile phone penetration is higher, reaching 40% of the population in 2020, with 2G network coverage being more extensive than 3G and 4G.
- Internet access was available to only 13% of the population in 2020 but saw a growth rate of 122% on the previous year.
- Electricity and internet access also remain unequal throughout the country, with urban populations having greater access to these services.
- Overall, almost 80% of internet access is through mobile phones.
Analysing the solutions through the lens of the DRC context reveals that some of the country-specific indicators function as inhibiting factors for technology solutions and suggests others that could encourage success.
- The low and unequal access to, and unreliable availability of, electricity, internet access and mobile phone coverage present significant barriers.
- It is not only access that influences the feasibility of technology uses, but also the quality of the service and the condition and age of the available hardware and systems.
- Even where infrastructure is sufficient to make services available, further barriers come into play in the costs of mobile services and the taxation system faced both by operators and consumers.
- The large and low-density nature of the DRC population and limited access to education can also inhibit the application of technology solutions.
- More positively, the expansion of ICT and mobile technologies in particular are considered by many stakeholders to be an important driver – and outcome – of socio-economic development, positioning technology solutions positively for future expansion.
- In the current context, it was observed that solutions based on mobile phone access can offer greater accessibility and results.
Wider enabling factors, opportunities and limitations
The role of technology in responsible minerals production and sourcing
Moving from the context and enabling environment to the implementation of technology solutions, the research highlights important outcomes in terms of the limitations of technology applications’ capacity to solve the challenges of responsible mining and sourcing of minerals, as well as opportunities to overcome these limitations.
- Behaviour and processes should be the primary considerations before turning to technology solutions. While the technology might serve as a tool, ultimately the mindset, skills and processes of responsible minerals production and sourcing need to be established before technology can add value.
- It is also necessary to look at technology beyond the traceability component, distinguishing clearly between solutions which only focus on traceability and those which provide broader scope in terms of due diligence and responsible sourcing.
- Other limitations are linked to security from the perspective of appropriate use and interpretation of information once it is collected, and in terms of guaranteeing the security of users in the mining area.
- The fact that mineral supply chains are often complex and crowded ecosystems also creates limitations for lean technology solutions.
- Specific limitations apply in the 3TG sector in eastern DRC, where the levels of complexity and lack of accountability in the supply chain presents a challenging set of circumstances for any technology-led solution.
Enabling factors for success with technology use
Where technology solutions are in use, the research identified a number of enabling factors and opportunities for supporting successful implementation and achieving impact.
- Local ownership and bottom-up approaches (driven by producing countries and not only by mid-downstream companies and international actors) are paramount. Such approaches should also include engagement of local authorities and regulating bodies.
- Opportunities for country-wide applications and integrating technology solutions into mineral resources governance are also highlighted. Technology solutions bring opportunities in the shape of access to regular data from producing locations, including data on social and environmental impacts, and can help scale the impact of existing initiatives.
- With regard to technical considerations, the interoperability of different solutions represents both opportunity and need, especially when dealing with complimentary applications or solutions applied at different stages of the supply chain.
- In terms of access to devices and feasibility of use, mobile phones and tablets present the greatest potential.
- · Consideration might also be given to the potential use of solar panels as an opportunity to improve access to energy around mining sites.
Opportunities for scale
Perspectives on the industry-wide application of technology solutions were sought during the research. While the report does not reach specific recommendations in this regard, it provides some reflections on conditions and opportunities.
- The clearest opportunity resides in the potential for industry-wide applications to streamline requirements and reduce reporting burdens, particularly on producing organisations.
- Conditions for success would include involving supply chain actors that directly collect and provide the data in the design of the solution.
- Industry-wide applications would also need to be scalable, cost-effective and simple to use.
- At the governance level, implementation of any solution at industry scale would require clear leadership from one or a group of actors, who would be able to bring different initiatives together and be capable of implementing a whole supply chain system.