THE ROLE OF ENGINEERING IN NATURAL RESOURCES EXPLOITATION OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIESByI. S. Amoka Mineral Resources Engineering Department, Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna, NigeriaABSTRACTThe backwardness and slow technological and economic growth of most developing countries may be attributed largely to the retarded and inefficient exploitation of their abundant natural resources. The challenges of exploiting basic natural resources are highlighted with particular reference to developing countries. The roles and interrelationships of the various engineering disciplines in the development process are illustrated. To ensure indispensable contribution of engineers to national growth and development, practical measures must be evolved for their production and productive employment.
Other crucial challenges especially for the government include economic re-orientation, and the promotion and development of appropriate technology.INTRODUCTIONAt creation, the human race was given the right to “fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish, the fowl and over every living thing.” This has been considered as the divine Magna Charta for all true scientific and material progress (1). Thus, man is expected to acquire knowledge and mastery over his material environment and to bring its elements into the service of society. Most engineering societies and councils define engineering as the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to economically utilise the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind (2). The engineering profession therefore uses the gifts and permission of the Creator to make the earth a better and beneficial place to live in.
Society should thus expect engineers to work on natural systems dealing with problems whose solutions are of interest and benefit to that society. These systems could be grouped into the following classes (3): a) Systems for material handling, including transformation of and conservation of raw and processed materials;b) Systems for energy handling, including its transformation, transmission and control; andc) Systems for data or information handling, involving its collection, transmission, and processing Engineering deals with the design, construction and maintenance of devices, machines and structures that are essential for meeting man??™s basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and defence. Towards these needs, two divisions or disciplines of engineering existed originally: namely, military engineering and civil engineering. As mans knowledge of natural phenomena grew and the potential civil applications became more complex, the civil engineering discipline tended to become progressively specialised.
Narrower specialisations became prevalent, and mechanical engineering, mining engineering, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering evolved. The splintering process has since continued with development, giving rise to new engineering disciplines such as computer engineering, biomedical engineering, food engineering, agricultural engineering, environmental engineering, and geological engineering (2).RESOURCES AND TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTThe engineering of resources for the benefit of man has posed great challenges over centuries.
There is still an increasing awareness of the need for effective exploration, exploitation and management of these important resources. Thus throughout history, man has always tried to fashion and improve tools and techniques by which he seeks to control or adapt nature to meet his basic needs.AgricultureThe history of the development of the human race is closely related to that of agricultural development. In his quests for food, clothing and shelter, man has adopted many agricultural practices through the ages as his technical skills and material resources grew. Even today, when so much can be synthetically manufactured, very many products come either directly or indirectly from agriculture. Agriculture, including forestry and fisheries, provide basic raw materials that have extensive potentials for industrial utilisation as well as domestic use. Products of agriculture may be grouped into the following broad classes:i) Foods and beverages, including cereals, legumes, roots and tubers, and fruits and vegetablesii) Tree crops, such as cocoa, coffee, coconut, oil palm, rubber, and gum-arabic, which are utilised in chemicals/pharmaceuticals, pulp, paper, and textile as well as food and beverages industriesiii) Industrial crops, such as cotton, sugar cane, wall nut, beniseed and locust beansiv) Forest and shrubs, producing wood products applicable in furniture, chemical, paper, energy, construction and automobile industriesv) Livestock and fishery, the products of which are used for meat, leather, wool, etc.Mineral and energy resourcesMans use of mineral resources form the very foundation of modern civilisation.
From his humble beginnings as a maker of crude stone tools, virtually every step of mans development to his present level of technological feats has been heavily punctuated by increased use of materials derived from minerals. Products of minerals include:i) Metals such as iron, aluminium, manganese, chromium and titanium used for iron and steel making, the bedrock of industrialisationii) Copper, silver and gold, which are used for their ornamental and coinage values, as well as varieties of industrial applications.iii) Metals extensively used in industrial tools and machinery, weaponry, electrical and electronic appliances and gadgets, aerospace, and computer technology.
iv) Non-metals such as sand, limestone, marble, asbestos, clays, gypsum, phosphate, barite, and diamond that have a wide range of industrial uses such as in building and construction, agriculture chemical and other industries. Mans impressive technological progress has also been aided by the indispensable, but abundant supplies of cheap energy. At present, mineral fuels, such as petroleum, natural gas and coal provide well over 90% of the energy utilised by man. Alternative energy sources of significance include nuclear sources (radioactive minerals).Sun, Water, and WindTremendous technological breakthroughs have been derived from water, air and sunlight, which the Creator has provided freely. All three provide very important and promising alternative sources of energy in form of hydroelectric power, pneumatic, and solar energy systems respectively. The potentials of these sources have been recognised especially for the tropics where the resources are vast and where incidentally developing countries are concentrated.
Both water and air are indispensable for human existence as well as industrial development. Ground water is regarded as the most critical and valuable of all earth resources (4). The availability of fresh water is fundamental to the existence of virtually every form of terrestrial life.
Although surface waters are more accessible for use than ground waters, they represent less than 5% of the fresh water available to man. The remainder is almost all ground water. The quantity and quality of ground water resources are thus a vital factor with respect to mans utilisation in many areas of the earth, particularly in the developing countries.CHALLENGES OF RESOURCES EXPLOITATIONNatural resources exploitation poses several peculiar challenges. The following peculiarities, for instance, are associated with mineral resources (4):(a) Exploitable earth resources are limited, and, with the exception of most ground water, they are non-renewable. Even agricultural resources considered renewable have to be effectively exploited and conserved(b) Resources are unevenly distributed geographically over the earth, and no single country is self-sufficient with respect to all its requirements.
(c) The ever-increasing world population, with the accompanying per capital consumption of resources is making man ever more dependent on an uninterrupted supply of these materials.(d) The technologically advanced nations have consumed, and continue to consume, disproportionate quantities of mineral resources.(e) The large-scale extraction and consumption of resources inevitably involves damage to natural environments.
Table 1 illustrates the contribution of agriculture and mining in supplying raw materials for meeting basic needs of human beings. The various raw materials required for such purposes are known to abound in developing countries but they remain under-developed due to the low level of technology and economy of these countries.Table 1. Agriculture and Mining in human civilisationHuman need Agriculture MiningFood Crops, livestock, fishery Tools, utensilsClothing Cotton, leather Jewellery, cosmeticsShelter Wood, grasses Structures, devicesDefence Animals, wood Weapons, machineryIndustry & Trade Wood, rubber, cocoa Energy, currencyTransport & Communication Animals, rubber, wood Machinery, devicesTable 2 shows the levels of technology applied to agricultural production in Nigeria, Africa, and Latin America.
In Nigeria, 90% of the power employed is human muscle power, 8% draught animal power and 2% engine power (5). In Europe and America nearly 100% of the land is cultivated by mechanical means, and in Asia and Latin America it is about 40-70%. The dismally low figure of 2% in Nigeria is thus obvious.Table 2. Levels of technology for agricultural production in Nigeria, Africa and Latin AmericaTechnology Latin America Africa NigeriaHand-Tool Technology (HTT) 59 89 90Draught-Animal Technology (DAT) 19 10 8Engine-Power Technology (EPT) 22 1 2 Adapted from Odigboh 1999 (5)Table 3 shows the status of mineral resources development in Nigeria. A large number of mineral occurrences have not been sufficiently quantified to attract investors into the industry. Even where large reserves have been determined, productions are extremely low and in most cases methods used are crude.THE ROLE OF ENGINEERSMajor challenges to engineering and science consist in helping to increase the quantity, quality and variety of output of natural resources (6).
These factors call for the effective and economic development and utilisation of resources for their benefit, and yet ensuring social and political concerns of conservation and environmental protection. The potential benefits of resources and the peculiar characteristics of their supply and consumption have therefore placed a growing demand on engineers who must be adequately prepared to meet the challenges. The exploitation processes thus require the engagement of several engineers.
The strong inter-relationship among the various engineering disciplines must be recognised and exploited to ensure technological growth of any society. The products of mineral resources engineers, for instance, form the input for metallurgical/material, chemical/petroleum refining, electrical, mechanical, agricultural, civil and construction industries. On the other hand, material, instrumentation, tools, machines, energy and structures required for natural resources development must be supplied by mechanical, electrical, civil/construction, and chemical industries. The challenging functions of engineers in any of such industries may include research, development, design, construction, production, operation, testing, management, education, and consultancy. Also of fundamental importance is the task of recognising, understanding and harnessing natural conditions and their influence on engineering designs and the environment, a great challenge to the environmental and public health engineer. Table 3. Status of mineral development in NigeriaMineral Reserves (Mt) Status of operation Mining method(s)Coal 400 Low Underground: Drill/blastCassiterite (tin) 0.2 Low Hydraulicking; panningIron 100 Low Open pit: Drill/blastGold Small Exploration PanningLead/zinc Moderate Exploration Underground: Drill/blastBarite Moderate Low Drill/blast: manualGypsum Large Low Drill/blast: manualTalc 40 Scanty Drill/blastLimestone Vast Moderate Drill/blast: mechanicalMarble Large Moderate Drill/blast: mechanicalClays/kaolin Large Low Stripping; manualSand Large Moderate StrippingGemstones Small Scanty ManualColumbite With tin Scanty ManualFeldspar/quartz Small Scanty ManualSTRATEGIES AND PROSPECTSCountries such as Nigeria, fortunate enough to have abundant occurrences of natural resources have great potentials for industrial, economic and social transformation.
Even those that are not sufficiently endowed have exploited the benefits of technology by effective importation and development of natural resources. Israel, for example, has recorded unparalleled advancement in agricultural technology by literally creating ???streams in the desert??? (1). The impressive industrial evolution and progress of Japan, Malaysia and Korea are other obvious examples of technological breakthroughs in spite of limited resources endowment. It is sad, however, that African nations such as Nigeria, blessed with large unused expanses of arable land and waters are unable to feed themselves adequately. Neither have the abundant mineral resources of Africa brought the expected wealth and development to its many countries. The following are therefore suggested as priority strategies to assure the prospects of engineering in playing its role for the much-desired technological growth.
OrientationReference has frequently been made to Nigerias abundant natural resources endowment, which should form a strong basis for industrial and economic development of the country. The persistent poverty and developmental dilemma of Nigeria and many other developing countries clearly show however that the mere possession or even production of a natural resource does not guarantee development. In most cases, the resources of the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) are produced and exported to the More Developed Countries (MDCs) for the consumption and industrial development of the latter, which has given them superior place in terms of development and real wealth. Moreover, governments of the LDCs are usually lured by the “huge??? revenues and foreign reserves generated by export of their natural resources. Unfortunately, this has created a perpetual mirage in the LDCs as such earnings are not judiciously used in development projects but rather used to buy consumer goods or in many cases to unduly enrich a very few individuals in leadership. Thus, true development process can only begin when LDCs re-orient their economies from being colonial and externally oriented to being internally responsive, and then diverting resources to development of an internal material and technological base (7, 8). It has also been suggested that the orientation of the country should turn from continuous importation culture to that of engendering in the culture that will expand the life expectancy of equipment, enable its adaptation to environmental condition and eventual production from indigenous materials in due course (9).
It is also noted that Nigeria exhibits the negative effects of undue concentration on politics and trading rather than on technological growth. Appropriate TechnologyThe bane of technological growth in Nigeria has been attributed to the inability of our engineers to indigenise and/or practicalise in their environment the knowledge acquired by them in their academic pursuits and in their day-to-day relationship or use of items of practical engineering/technological importance (9). Mordell and Coales (10) also suggest that the most effective way to develop is to encourage endogenous or appropriate technology, including rural development and simple agricultural machinery for natural resources development. Such technology may not be glamorous in the sense that might be applied to sophisticated technologies of MDCs, but appropriate technology is no less challenging, and it equally demands the best. This technology makes the best use of the local resources of a particular country in order to improve the economy of that country.
It does not exclude the adoption of foreign or international technology, but such technology must usually be adapted to suit the particular conditions and needs of the LDC. While, for example, large scale mechanisation is desirable for agricultural and mining production, its feasibility in LDCs is often hindered by several factors including high initial and running costs, special operational and maintenance requirements, as well as land ownership and acquisition problems. Several opinions have therefore recently advocated strongly on the need to develop simple and cheaper machines such as labour saving devices (LSD) for agricultural production, and small-scale mining operations (7, 11-15). These, it is believed, are more easily adapted to the subsistence farming system and low mining investment patterns characteristic of developing countries. The vast varieties of local fabrications displayed in markets such as Panteka-Kaduna, the ???Made-in-Nnewi??? spare parts, and the impressive skill commonly demonstrated by our roadside mechanics, are few evidences of potentials for indigenous technologies.
These are hopes that should be encouraged, nurtured and up-graded with appropriate engineering input for the necessary technological progress.Development of Engineers In spite of the benefits and challenges of engineering, many people get discouraged from taking it as a profession because the remuneration after graduation often appears not to justify the rigorous fundamentals of mathematics, engineering sciences, design projects and practical work often associated with it, and longer durations of study are also sometimes involved. Even practising engineers occasionally feel cheated because of poor remuneration. It may require some persuasion to recognise that while salary is important, it should not necessarily be the most important consideration to the engineer.
Both prospective and practising engineers may derive satisfaction not only from expected remuneration but also from opportunity for advancement, challenge of work, and recognition of job well done. Besides, individuals in any profession can earn either more or less monetary reward depending on individual skills, ambition, and hard work. Moradell and Coales (10) clearly illustrate some of the crucial challenges of the engineer in LDCs and the need for sound training. Contrary to popular opinion, engineers in LDCs need a high degree of competence to see how the well established technology can be adapted to suit different environments, including climate, technical, infrastructure, quality of labour, availability of spares, etc. The development of endogenous technology almost always requires innovation and is therefore as much a challenge for well qualified people as is the development of some of the most sophisticated new technologies. The engineer in a LDC is seldom backed up by the sort of technical infrastructure usual in a MDC. Thus, usually he cannot call on other colleagues for support and help; he is therefore working under more difficult conditions than his colleague in a MDC and, more often than not, is required to cover a wider range of engineering disciplines to bring a job to a successful conclusion. Further, before he has had time to gain vital practical experience over a broad enough field, he finds himself promoted to a position of responsibility at an earlier age than his counterpart in a MDC.
It is therefore concluded that the engineer in a LDC must be at least as well, if not better, prepared than his counterpart in a MDC.In any case, if a nation is to derive the rightful benefit of engineering towards technological and economic development, proper environment must be created and sustained for the motivation of engineers. Thus, while policies, standards and efforts are put in place to produce engineers, government should also ensure that they are effectively utilised.InfrastructureThere can be no conceivable technological or industrial development without adequate and reliable infrastructures facilities such as electricity supply, water supply, transportation and telecommunication services. These are particularly necessary for development of agricultural and mineral resources, and yet they are grossly inadequate and highly erratic both in performance and distribution.
Development and maintenance of essential infrastructure remains a matter of serious concern in Nigeria as in other developing countries. This calls for the co-ordinated and concerted efforts of engineers if the country is to achieve any meaningful progress in its quest for technological breakthrough.CONCLUSIONThe enormous challenges for engineering in the technological and economic growth of developing countries have been illustrated. The roles of various engineering professionals in the technological development process cannot be over-emphasised. Government must, therefore, go beyond mere policies and rather provide such practical environments that would foster development.
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