Rwanda’s mineral export revenues contributed the biggest share to Rwanda’s foreign exchange earnings during 2017. Mineral exports by over 210 per cent to $248.5 million last year compared to $80.1 million in the previous year. The development renewed optimism among sector players as the recovery of the metal market continues.
However, many industry stakeholders say these gains could be lost soon if nothing is done to address the issue of artisanal mining operations which they say are endangering the sector.
The miners are also worried about the big losses caused by the rudimentary mining activities in terms of mineral value along the value chain as well as environmental degradation. Alphonse Rugiramumaro, the managing director of Gisizi Mining Limited that has operations in Kamonyi and Rutsiro districts told Business Times that the traditional mining techniques affects the productivity.
Figures show that 75 per cent of the country’s mining operations are currently artisanal with very low recovery rate for minerals at 15 per cent. Rugiramumaro called for urgent support in terms of equipment and training to increase mineral exports and revenues.
“The traditional and non-mechanised mining methods cause losses as we cannot recover a big percentage of the resource from the ground and also through poor methods used. However, if we get modern and efficient equipment we can recover up to 50 per cent from an average of 30 per cent currently,” he said on the sidelines of a stakeholders meeting in Kigali.
About four years ago, the then minister of mines pledged to professionalise the sector through use of better equipment and personnel training as well as ensuring mining firms observe safety and environmental standards. However, some of these challenges are still affecting the sector, with miners calling for more investments to help improve and make it more profitable and sustainable.
Rugiramumaro said the use of traditional processing techniques has limited his firm’s production capacity to only 1.5 tonnes of coltan every month, adding that the company can produce much more with better equipment and skilled personnel.
The miner said though some partners have always pledged to help them acquire efficient equipment, they are yet to fulfill their pledges many years later. “If we get more training and also secure modern mining equipment, I am sure our production capacity will increase three to fourfold,” he said.
Aloys Ndindabahizi has worked in mining sector for about 10 years. The miner said 2,000-hectare mining field is producing under capacity because they use poor methods and equipment. He called on big sector players like Mineral Supply Africa to support them to be able to increase output through “sustainable mining”.
“To our partners, please fulfill your promises of support. We also need partners in mineral processing and separation because value addition is crucial to boost earnings and sector competitiveness,” Ndindabahizi said.
Miners speak out
Onesme Ntihemuka, a wolfram miner in Busogo sector, Musanze District, told Business Times that challenges related to traditional mining affects small miners in various ways.
“The mining site where I have been working has been temporarily suspended because the owner has not fulfilled requirements for sustainable mining and workers’ safety. “For instance, we use candles and torches while searching and extracting minerals in underground tunnels, which is very risky,” he said.
He added that many sites still don’t provide miners with protective gear, such as mouth and hand covers, and helmets. They also lack supporting pillars in tunnels, while others still use wood pillars that are not safe. Ntihemuka said many companies also use manual techniques while extracting and washing minerals, which is tiresome and time consuming.
Gervais Bayagambe, another miner, said some firms don’t have facilities to separate minerals from alluvial mud. They carry out the process in rivers, which leads to loss of some minerals and also pollutes the water and environment, he added.
Miners cry foul over exploitation
Ntihemuka said miners who do the donkey work are exploited and earn pea nuts.
He said that when minerals are got, the owners and operators (investors) of mineral fields get a 50 per cent share of mineral sales each. The owners then give half of their share to miners without taking into consideration the numbers.
“For instance, if the minerals are sold at Rwf100,000, the investors and the land owner take Rwf50,000 each. The land owner then gets half of this or Rwf25,000 and gives it to the miners. So, from these calculations you can see that we get pea nuts for a job that is risky and tiresome,” he added.
Bayagambe said that some the investor do not insure workers.
“You find that, if one has 60 workers, only 10 of them could have necessary insurance cover. So, when there are accidents, many workers don’t go without any support,” he said.
Optimism as mineral prices, revenues rise
By the end of 2017, $300 million were fetched from minerals and the target is $1.5 billion by 2024 through different measures including using modern mining equipment and adding value to minerals which we have not been doing for long time ago.
The government targets to double mineral output and exports under EDPRS II. He said, so far, there are 523 licensed mining companies registered in Rwanda Development Board.
However in the last two years, he said, falling of mineral prices had triggered the closure of some mining companies. Each of Rwanda’s principle minerals lost value on the international market with the value of tin depreciating by 23 per cent, coltan by 41 per cent and wolfram by 46 per cent. However, there is optimism among sector players following a rebound in mineral prices since last year. For instance, in September 2017, wolfram shot up to $310 and $345, a significant increase from below $200 few months earlier.
Frank Butera, the executive secretary of Rwanda Mining Association (RMA), said measures were underway to mobilise investors in the sector to embrace modern and efficient mining processes and equipment. “We have to continue encouraging sector players to acquire modern tools and train personnel,” he said.
The official added that the group ensures that investors operate within guidelines, which seeks to enhance processes by reducing artisanal mining and environmental degradation. “We are sensitising new investors and miners to introduce modern mining equipment and practices, as well as train miners to improve their skills as part of efforts aimed at making professionalisation of the sector,” Butera said.
Komarovic Julija, the acting director general of Mineral Supply Africa, a local mineral exporter, said the firm would strengthen co-operation with miners and also help small miners to operate professionally and efficiently.
“In the coming years, we will invest more in initiatives geared at improving mining sites and operations by equipping miners with requisite skills and training them in best practices,” she said.
He noted that though most mining companies want to shift from traditional to modern mining methods, they lack skilled staff and equipment.
“We have experts who will train on modern and efficient mining for our partners,” she said, adding that this will help boost earnings for miners and make Rwanda’s minerals more competitive.
New safety law
Butera urged mining companies to ensure all their workers have the necessary insurance cover, saying failure to do that attracts penalties. He also said some miners suffer from health conditions because they work without protective gear.
He added that there are regulations under the law being currently drafted to ensure mining firms observe safety and health guidelines.
“We need to carry out regular inspection to monitor companies for compliance with safety and health regulations,” he added.
New minerals discovered
Rwanda had been extracting coltan, cassiterite and wolfram, but the country recently discovered other new minerals, such as gemstones which are used in ornaments, and rare earth elements.
The official called for empowerment of people in mineral-rich areas, saying that they should be prioritised for jobs, and also get a 10 per cent share from mineral revenues.