The arrival this week of three engineering experts from a university in Japan signalled the stepping up of the Asian giant's public and private sectors' efforts to get a foothold in Botswana.
Japan's interest in Botswana minerals goes back decades. Its current involvement in Botswana's mining sector is limited to the supply of capital equipment technological support and technical expertise.
Last September, a 50-strong high-powered delegation of Japanese politicians, heads of parastatals and captains of industry visited Botswana on a fact-finding mission on which they also held "fruitful" discussions with the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources (MMEWR), Ponatshego Kedikilwe.
Officials of the Embassy of Japan in Botswana confirmed that a three-man research team landed in Gaborone on Tuesday week and held a series of meetings with various government officials and private sector players.
The team also met with MMEWR officials before travelling to Lobatse to meet with the staff of Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC). JOGMEC is working in partnership with the Department of Geological Survey (DGS) on a five-year Geological Remote Sensing Centre which involves the use of Japanese satellites in mineral exploration in Botswana while simultaneously training DGS staff to use this equipment.
The Geological Remote Sensing Centre was launched last September at a cost of US$5 million. The Japanese team is from Akita University and it includes Professor Toshio Mizuta who is an expert in mineral deposits.
"The group plans to study underground geological conditions with the aim of identifying mineral deposits. It will also study educational levels in the country to determine the level of help to offer, as well as carry out inspections at various locations, including mines".
According to media reports, the Japanese government hopes the research team's visit will "put it in a good position to acquire part of Botswana's natural resources in the midst of international competition".
Professor Mizuta and his team will also assess what value they can add to the Mineral Deposits and Mining Department planned for the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
After this visit, Akita University plans to send teachers and students to BIUST to help with teaching and research, as well as assist with mining projects. Akita University's Faculty of
JOGMEC Director, Tetsuo Suzuki, told Monitor Business that the Akita University research team was scheduled to tour the Geological Remote Sensing Centre on Wednesday morning ( last week) , adding that the Japanese delegation were to leave Botswana on May 2. Suzuki also revealed that the training of Batswana geologists at the centre was set to resume soon.
"We will re-start our classes soon with five students from DGS," Suzuki said. "The centre is thus far operating well and we are pleased with its achievements."
The JOGMEC training module has seven programmes which have been spread out across the partnership period of five years.
These include Introduction to Remote Sensing, Remote Sensing Basic Skills, Remote Sensing Advanced Skills, Geographic Information Systems and Ground Trooth.
With JOGMEC/DGS up and running, as well as the frequent fact-finding and research missions, Japan hopes to break into the Botswana mining sector at producer level.
Already, Japanese banks such as Sumitomo and the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) are among the front-runners to take up equity in the multi-billion Mmamabula Energy Complex.
Last year, the Japanese Ambassador to Botswana, Ryoichi Matsuyama said the East Asian country was interested in opportunities such as the Trans-Kalahari Railway and development of minerals such as coal, copper, nickel and natural gas.
Currently, Japan's major import from Botswana is diamonds; but this could change over time with the Oriental giant hoping to import minerals such as gold and especially uranium, which it already has the technology to survey for.
Exports from Japan to Botswana amount to about P188 million annually and consist of mining equipment, electrical appliances and vehicles, while Botswana's exports to Japan amount to approximately P70 million, mostly diamonds.
The entry of Japanese investors into Botswana will boost trade between the two countries, promote Foreign Direct Investment and enhance technical skills and capacity building in the local mining sector.