Mobile banking in Burma, polishing diamonds in Botswana and raising a glass to the whisky industry in Tasmania
French firm Ecomouton uses miniature sheep rather than noisy mowers to keep lawns trim. Recently trialled in Paris’s parks, the eco-friendly ovine solution is half the price of its electric alternative.
In a bold departure from tradition, the world’s largest diamond producer, Botswana, has started to cut, polish and sell its own precious stones instead of shipping them off to Europe. Taking a larger slice of the exports that already account for half of the country’s revenue, Botswana’s first pilot auction this summer was the initial step in the country’s plan to challenge the established diamond trading hubs of London, Antwerp and Mumbai.
De Beers, which co-owns Botswana’s top mining firm with the government, hopes to sell $6bn (€4.5bn) worth of diamonds from its new location in the capital, Gaborone, where a new diamond park has sprung up in order to accommodate the growing business. Other diamond-producing countries such as South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia are watching closely to see if the move will bolster Botswana’s economic growth and create jobs.
“We will have to see how much Botswana benefits,” says James Allan, diamond expert at Johannesburg-based corporate finance advisory firm Allan Hochreiter. “It will largely depend on the pricing. Its neighbours will monitor Botswana’s progress and might follow suit.”
Africa’s three top diamond producers:
Botswana: With 27 per cent of global diamond production, Botswana exported 20.55 million carats, valued at almost $3bn (€2.3bn), in 2012.
South Africa: Has the world’s most diverse diamond reserves, which account for 12 per cent of global production and produced 7.08 million carats in 2012, valued at $1bn (€750,000).
Angola: With 8 per cent of global production, it produced 8.33 million carats in 2012, valued at $1bn (€750,000).
Karachi is Pakistan’s economic hub but also a hotbed of violence and instability that has spurred an increase in orders of bulletproof cars. Industry sources say around 20 are ordered in Karachi every month with 15 to 20 more sold elsewhere in the country, including the unstable northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the capital Islamabad. “These orders are being placed by the private sector, not just politicians and military,” says supplier Toyota Central Motors’ director, Shahzad Godil.
The Spanish province of Valencia is to fruit what Silicon Valley is to computing. As well as being Europe’s largest citrus exporter it’s also home to some industry innovators. Laser Food produces machines that apply “laser tattoos” to everything from orange rinds to watermelon peel, with the hope of eliminating unnecessary fruit packaging such as stickers.
The firm’s machines make a minuscule incision into the peel and then treat the cut with a safe chemical that makes it more visible. “Our markings are tasteless and odourless,” says Stephane Merit, Laser Food’s export sales manager. Conceived in 2006, the aim was to better track the origins of produce. Companies in Italy, France and Poland have already invested in the machines and the EU recently passed regulations that legalise a wider rollout.
As wireless networks are introduced across Southeast Asia’s poorest country this year, Visa and MasterCard are seeing the potential to develop mobile banking in Burma. The award of the first telecommunications contracts to foreign operators Telenor and Qatar Telecom will boost coverage up to 80 per cent by 2016. Matthew Driver, head of MasterCard in Southeast Asia, believes the entry of foreign telecom operators and the introduction of international-use debit or prepaid cards by early 2014 will help lay a foundation for mobile banking.
“The opportunity for financial inclusion is immense. Citizens with banking and mobile penetration currently stands at 10 per cent or less,” Driver says. As Burma seeks to reduce reliance on cash, mobile banking could reshape the country.
Young Tasmanian whisky distilleries such as Nant are turning to a novel form of investment to help their product onto the global market. Nant sells its barrels to private investors, who are guaranteed a 9.5 per cent return when they’re tapped four or five years down the line. Of course the taxman will take his share but unlike other investments you are welcome to drink the interest.