There are several constraints that hinder the cross-border supply chain in Africa, but the most daunting is the logistical challenges, given the vast distances that need to be covered – primarily over very poor roads – and congested and inefficient border crossings, says facilities management company focused on remote locations International Facilities Services (IFS).

Added to these is the challenge of border officials who seem to apply “new” legislation or requirements at their own discretion, IFS supply chain executive Jason Skewis tells Mining Weekly.

Further challenges are posed by the lead time to execute shipments from source to destination, resulting in the need for focused and fact-based planning well ahead of execution. The remittance of funds for product exports and services can also be a significant hindrance to a business if the export process and documentation is not fully understood and rigidly adhered to, says Skewis.

He will be part of a panel discussion on March 27, day one of the inaugural Cross-Border Mining Services Indaba, on strategies for alleviating constraints in cross-border supply chains. Joining Skewis on the panel are project management and engineering firm SENET supply chain GM Mufaro Muzvondiwa, global transport and logistics company DSV sub-Saharan Africa and projects VP Gerald Povey, and Zimbabwe platinum producer Zimplats commercial GM Charles Mugwambi.

Skewis believes that the primary benefit of the Indaba, which will be held at The Country Club, in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, from March 27 to 28, is that of operational knowledge sharing between the delegates. “The experience in managing a cross-border supply chain is gained through finding solutions to the challenges that we face daily,” he says.

Most important, Skewis tells Mining Weekly, is that solutions need to be implemented in a manner that prevents the same issue from repeating itself time and time again. “All the delegates attending the Indaba will have experienced many similar and some unique challenges in their operations, and the sharing of ideas and solutions is where the real value lies. Collective solutions will always trump the sum of those of the individual.”

Of the countries IFS operates in, it finds Zimbabwe particularly challenging, owing to the legislation the country has put in place. “As a result, we have set up supplier relationships within Zimbabwe to secure the stock we require for our operations. However, there are challenges moving goods into all the countries in which we operate and we have a good understanding of the processes that need to be followed, and we build this into our transit lead time.”

Partnering with suppliers and service providers that have an in-depth operational understanding of specific transit routes but also alternate routes, should potential risks emerge, and geographies is paramount when undertaking cross-border mining services. These are the partners that will manage the difficult situations on the ground, ensuring that a backup plan is available for implementation with minimal disruption to operations, highlights Skewis.

The forward planning of shipments is critical, he says, as this ensures that demand variation and lead times are factored into the security of an operational site’s stock levels. Forward planning also requires an understanding of seasonal changes, such as festive periods and cyclone seasons, so that these variables can be taken into consideration. Keeping up to date with ever-shifting legislation is also vital, as amendments may impact on specific items exported and the applicable documentation, states Skewis, noting that in-country partners can add significant value in this regard.

In-country networks are critical in gathering information and assisting in finding solutions to challenges that may impact on-site and supply chain operations. “Whether it is our site representative regularly communicating with our clients to understand their changing needs, legal partners gathering information about legislation changes, or suppliers and service providers sharing updates on transit route conditions, information is the power that allows us to make decisions and alternate arrangements before they impact on our business.”

IFS is involved in engineering, construction, copper and cobalt projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); the copper sector in Zambia; gold, platinum and palladium projects in Zimbabwe; and coal, heavy minerals and oil and gas in Mozambique. The company also has clients in Namibia, where it is involved in business and industry (B&I), government education feeding schemes and ship handling; as well as the Lesotho diamonds sector and South Africa, where it is servicing independent power producers, clients in B&I, and the construction and manganese sectors.

“We have enjoyed strong growth in Mozambique and the DRC over recent years. Our strong presence and ability to provide clients with excellent service at competitive rates ensure that we continue to beat our competitors when bidding to gain new or retain existing business. Sub-Saharan Africa has a reputation for historically having high barriers to entry, so our presence has always been a competitive advantage,” says Skewis.

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