MINING will, for a long time to come, remain the economic mainstay of Zambia because of its capacity to generate massive foreign exchange and create high levels of employment for local people.
Mining, particularly copper production remains one of the key economic areas which is able to single-handedly shake the country’s economy either positively or negatively depending on its performance.
This is more so in that Zambia is the second largest copper producer in Africa.
It is, therefore, not surprising that whatever happens to this sectors cannot go without dissection and focus.
The need for serious attention to the sector, in particular copper production, has been augmented by the current government’s vision or target to raise copper production to three million tonnes per year in the next decade.
For known reasons, however, the outturn has not been encouraging in the past couple of years.
For the country aspiring to more than treble its annual copper production and reclaim its superlative position in Africa, posting a slump in the output is always a huge setback.
It is, therefore, regrettable that Zambia’s copper production for 2022 dropped to 763,550.34 from 803,746.52 posted in 2021 due to heavy downpour experienced in the first quarter of the year.
According to the latest mineral data made available by Mines and Minerals Development Permanent Secretary Hapenga Kabeta at the weekend, the fall in the 2022 copper production translates into 4.2 per cent.
The drop which translates into about 40,000 tonnes of copper draws the country backwards as far as catching up with Africa’s largest copper producer and Zambia’s neighbour, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is concerned.
This is in the year the DRC outperformed it previous production figures.
For 2022, DRC produced an estimated 2.3 million tonnes of the base metal copper, representing a more than six-fold increase in the country’s copper production since 2010, which serious investments started flowing in.
The annual production of copper for that vast country increased by 23.6 per cent in 2022 compared to the 2021 figure according to the statistical digests of the Central Bank of Congo.
“Copper production increased during the year 2022 to 2,359,824 tons against 1,802,897 tons in 2021, thus generating a growth rate of 23.6 per cent,” reads the digests early this year.
Now, as this forum always notes, DRC is a giant mining country which has been Africa’s leading copper producers for about a decade now.
According to Mining for Zambia, in 2013, for the very first time, the DRC surpassed Zambia’s copper production level to become Africa’s leading copper producer and it has never looked back.
Zambia remains in the second position.
According to the World Bank, the largest Francophone country in Africa has more than 1,100 minerals and precious stones.
For Zambia, the slump in copper production last year entailed that its efforts and desire to attain three million-tonne copper production per year in the next 10 years are being hampered, hence the need to relook at the matter.
I am aware that for last year the cause of the 40,000 drop in copper production was an ‘act of God’, the heavy rains and, therefore, unfortunate.
In my view, however, if the mines like the Konkola Copper Mine (KCM) and the Mopani Copper Mine (MCM) were operating full throttle, the effects of the floods could have easily been mitigated by the high production figures from those two mining giants.
This is because, as Dr Kabeta indicates, the fall in the total annual copper production was largely caused by low copper grades recorded at Kansanshi Mining in Solwezi which posted a 27-per cent slump in the production of the metal.
Generally, there was a five per cent reduction in copper production at other large mining units apart from Kansanshi.
Apart from Kansanshi, MCM, KCM, Lubambe, CNMC Luanshya and Sino Metals all contributed to this five-per cent fall in copper production for the year, thereby resulting into the overall drop.
Notably, however, production at small scale mining processing plants rose by 18.7 per cent as compared to the figures posted in 2021 but that was not enough to offset the drop at big mines, leaving the sector yearning for further investments at KCM and MCM.
It is also hoped that further investments at other small and large scale mines on the Copperbelt and North-western and other province will bring the copper production level on course to meet the 10-year target.
For comments call: 0955 431442, 0977 246099, 0964 742506 or e-mail: email@example.com.