Debswana is set to move ahead with a key development phase of the Jwaneng underground project in Botswana with an investment of around $1bn.

The board of Debswana, which is a 50:50 joint venture (JV) between De Beers Group and the Botswana government, has sanctioned the investment. The development work will enable the diamond mine to shift from open pit to underground operations.

Dubbed as the Exploration Access Development Phase, the programme involves setting up a drilling platform to allow comprehensive sampling of the kimberlite pipes. The works under this phase include delivering the early access decline for the underground mine and developing the necessary infrastructure to underpin the future stages of the project.

According to De Beers Group, the initial works will begin in May this year and follow the successful execution of feasibility studies.

After the completion of the Exploration Access Development stage, the Jwaneng underground project will be developed in two more phases, Phase 1 mining and Phase 2 mining. This will be for driving long-term future production at the Jwaneng diamond mine.

De Beers Group CEO and Debswana deputy board chairman Al Cook said: “Jwaneng stands proudly as the world’s greatest diamond mine. It is a central pillar of both the Botswana economy and the De Beers Group business.

“The global supply of natural diamonds is falling, so moving forward with the Jwaneng Underground Project creates new value for investors, brings new technology to the country, creates new skills for our workforce and provides new gems for customers around the world.

“This investment is aligned with our strategy to prioritise investments in the highest quality projects.”

Located in south central Botswana, the Jwaneng diamond mine became 100% operational in 1982. Since then, the mine has yielded an average of around 11 million carats per annum.

Presently, 2100 permanent employees and 3,200 contractors are associated with the Jwaneng mine.