The Government is optimistic that by the end of the year, the mining sector will be able to export processed minerals, according to an official from Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA).
Speaking to Saturday Times, Dr Emmanuel Munyangabe, the deputy director-general for Geology and Mining at RNRA, said the new technology will be used in separation of minerals which will allow for the minerals to be sold separately.
“Separation will enable selling of new minerals like niobium, rare earth and platinum group. It will also help set global price of some minerals found in the region like tantalum, tungsten and tin,” Munyangabe said.
He said, for this year, they want to employ the separation technology in processing coltan, wolfram and cassiterite.
“We are looking for experts who will also train our local experts in such processes. We hope that by the end of this we will be able to export some separated minerals,” Munyangabe said.
One of the expected plants, he said, is coltan separation plant, which could be tested in the middle of this year so that, by the end of the year, it will have started processing.
Coltan is a metallic mineral, a combination of columbite and tantalite and is refined to produce tantalum.
According to Munyangabe, in 2015 cassiterite, coltan, wolframite and other minerals fetched $149 million and $117.1 million between January and September last year.
There was a production of 1.6 million kilogrammes of coltan worth $66 million, while between January and September 2016, it was 953,018 kilogrammes worth $30.1 million.
Munyangabe said that besides traditional minerals, exploration of minerals is ongoing and recent exploration in the country confirmed presence of new different stones such as gemstones, rare earth minerals, copper, cobalt, nickel, iron, lithium and others.
“We are exploring new minerals which we did not know we had. The exploration, that resumed from November last year, will last until June this year. With new exploration, airborne geophysics is being used to survey new minerals. Ground surveys are ongoing and more minerals are being found in different areas,” he said.
Gemstones are precious or semi-precious stones, especially once cut, polished, and used in a piece of jewellery.
He explained that gemstones in Rwanda include sapphire found in Rusizi District while others are tourmaline, aquamarine, ruby, garnet and quartz, adding that exploration for these gems is also being conducted in parallel with other ground works.
Among the challenges that still hamper the sector, officials cite lack of experts such as geologists, geochemists, mining engineers, gemmologists in the mining sector as all experts are expatriates.
The other issue is lack of experienced local companies in trading of minerals and many fraudulent activities like tax evasion by reporting lower incomes.
“We have too many small companies that do not provide enough produce. They need to create synergies so that they make big companies that can afford modern equipment in mining. For example, currently, out 100 mining companies, only 10 can afford modern and environmental friendly equipment as well as have research capacity,” Munyangabe added.
The Minister for Natural Resources, Vincent Biruta, while addressing new licensed mining companies and cooperatives, recently, called for the increase of mineral recovery rate from 15 per cent to a higher level with modern and efficient mining equipment.
He urged miners to keep exploration works by hiring the necessary expertise, including qualified and experienced human resource like geologists, mining engineers and others.
Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, last week, President Paul Kagame urged miners to put in more efforts this year with the view to help improve welfare of Rwandans.