As Rwanda seeks to become a regional mineral hub for processing and trading, different interventions to improve workers’ wellbeing in the mines, ensuring environmentally friendly methods of exploration, and attracting investments in the field are at the forefront of this development. Despite the sector being the second-largest export revenue earner in the country, just behind tourism, experts urge strategic approaches to have more investments for accelerated production capacity. Yamina Karitanyi, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board, in an exclusive interview with The New Times’ Alice Kagina shared more insights on the performance of the mining sector and different strategic instruments in place to attract investments and increase mineral exploration. Below are excerpts. What is the current status of mining sector performance in Rwanda and how do you assess growth in the last 5 years? When we look at mining in the last five years, we have seen an increment year-on-year of revenues through exports which is a good thing but also gives us renewed hope that we can do more. In terms of revenues, we came from $373 million in 2017 to $733 million in 2020, even though we saw a slight decline in 2021 with $516 million due to the decrease in prices of 3Ts on the international market mainly because Covid-19 had disrupted the value chain. The target, of course, remains to reach $1.5 billion of revenue by 2024 as set under the NST1 (National Strategy for Transformation). We think we can make quick returns given that we are not recovering as much of the minerals with the current status of mining, it’s just simple things to do with lack of proper equipment to be able to recover more minerals. We are only able to recover 35 percent of mined minerals. Miners at Nyakabingo minig site .Craish Bahizi We are talking to various partners to at least achieve a 60 to 70 percent recovery rate which informs us that we will be able to export much more. With few targeted investments we can achieve our goal and even exceed it. What’s the current market state of mines (local and exports)? Most of what we mine is for exports. We have started adding value locally but it’s not for consumption in the local market. We have a tin smelter that transforms the cassiterite into tin, we have a gold refinery with 99.9 percent efficiency, and we are hoping to complete a coltan refinery plant in the next few months. The market prices of 3Ts experience volatility but due to measures of value addition, the sector remains resilient to these price shocks. Current information shows that the price of raw cassiterite is $26.4/KG while processed cassiterite is $42.2/KG. Raw Coltan is $49.4/KG and we are also envisaging exporting it after value addition in the future, and raw wolfram is $14/KG. The value addition allows us to receive more revenues for what’s collected before export. There is a higher value for that specific product but also the fact that you now have by-products. For example, once you refine gold, the by-product is silver which you also end up selling. Same with cassiterite, once you get tin, you also have coltan as a by-product. That said, we need to be very innovative to see what we can consume locally but it has to have economic consent from our investors. Mining is a risky business, what measures have you put in place to ensure security, inclusion, and livelihood improvement for workers? Our inspection has been enhanced and we are slowly but surely moving towards professionalising the sector. This is a sector that has been artisanal in a sense, you have communities living where concessions are, the use of rudimentary methods to mine. We are trying to change that by bringing proper equipment and education that goes along with it. By using the regulation and standards, we have ensured that each site, where there are mining activities, has mining engineers working there, which was not the case before. The University of Rwanda, Rutongo School of Mining, and IPRCs are producing a skilled labour force which now gives an opportunity for them to work but also assists us in enforcing safety standards for the benefit of workers and their families. Business people have on different occasions said that capital and investment is a challenge turning many away from the sector. Are there strategic approaches in place to attract them into mining? It’s a two-way approach, one I mentioned about professionalising the sector which means also getting much from the mining activities. If we can increase the mineral recovery, your investment would give better yields. The second aspect is working with the banking sector so we have affordable finance methods available to the sector. That is a broad range of financing infrastructure to ensure someone is not going into the business having to use their own residential homes as collaterals. It also requires to have model mining-people who have mined in other countries and have done well to come to Rwanda-we are being intentional about the kind of mining companies we want to see invest in Rwanda and not just taking anybody who is coming to tell us a story about what they may or may not achieve. It’s a constant quest to meet the demand of what we are producing, what we aspire to as a country in terms of environmental protection and community protection, safety of our miners, as well as profit. It’s balancing all those components to ensure that we move from the past age of mining towards a more sustainable and professional field. To what extent are women involved in mining and what should be done to have more on board? Initially, women shied away from mining for obvious reasons, it was unsafe, working conditions were harsh and they were not even moving into a skilled field. But you will be pleasantly surprised if you go to Rutungo School of Mining and find more girls register to join the field. We are seeing a shift in not only the workers but also concession owners. Within the Rwanda Mining Association, there is a women’s chapter which is very promising. 11.8 percent of companies are represented by women. Overall, it is still very low but as we move forward and graduate more of our girls, they will join this sector and because it’s now safer to work in the mines with the introduction of Early Childhood Development centers (ECDs) by some companies, we will have more women. How do you project the mining sector to perform this year and the next, given the global economic challenges? There are price fluctuations we have to be prepared for but the good news is the huge demand on key minerals that are feeding renewable energy, will probably continue to rise. We have to keep investing in exploration because what we know of the minerals that are in Rwanda is not the full story. For successful mining, you must continue exploring because something that might not have been of interest 10 years ago, might be very important today. We are working towards having more exploration, adequate and accurate information gathering so that we know what we have and how to position that for mining in the mid-term and long-term.