Zambia’s largest copper miner, First Quantum Minerals – FQM has not shut down its operations but intensified its preventive measures against coronavirus – COVID 19, allaying fears that Zambias economy would ground to a total shut down.
Copper exports account for over 70% of Zambia’s exports and foreign exchange earnings and the mining industry’s impact on the economy remains pervasive. The other key foreign exchange earner – International tourism has come to a halt on COVID 19 travel restrictions and health threats.
FQM which two large scale copper mines at Kalumbila and Kansanshi has confirmed that the global pandemic of COVID-19 has had immediate [negative] effects on the mining industry leading to a drop in metal prices on London Metal Exchange as mines across the world shut down while others go on care and maintenance.
FQM Country Manger Kingsley Chinkuli has told the Zambian Business Times – ZBT that operations at FQM have been affected as the closure of borders has affected inflows of inputs to mine operations and outflows of metal to the markets.
He told ZBT that despite the threats of COVID-19 on the mining operations, FQM has not shut its operations as it will continue to tighten internal employee safety and health measures and adhere to Ministry of Health guidelines and directives on the pandemic.
When asked to estimate how much the mine has lost in revenues and monetary terms during this COVID 19 pandemic time, Chinkuli could not disclose the exact figures saying the mines are still in operation hence not possible to determine the exact extent at this stage.
“Aside FQM, other mines have been affected leading to the closure of operations or simply sending their work force away on forced leave till the pandemic eases, however, we just hope that the situation stabilizes going forward as we continue to implement the measures which have been guided by the authorities,” He added.
FQM production numbers announced on 6 January 2020 made available to the Zambian Business Times – ZBT, the North Western Province based copper mines at Kansanshi and Kalumbila Sentinel recorded a slight drop in copper production with annual 2019 total production of 452,000 tones compared with 476,000 tones in 2018.
Kansanshi recorded reduced annual copper production of 232,000 tones in 2019 while its production in 2018 was 252,000 tones, a reduction of about 20,000 tones in one year. Kalumbila Sentinel posted an annual production of 220,000 in 2019, compared to 224,000 in 2018, a minimal reduction of 4,000 tones.
FQM President Clive Newell at the time attributed the 20,000 tones drop at Kansanshi to lower ore grades. He stated that “Kansanshi copper production for the fourth quarter was in line with the comparable period of 2018 though, as noted in Q2 and Q3 2019, lower oxide ore grades and resulting recoveries contributed to lower copper production for the year compared with 2018”.
Kalumbila Sentinel copper production for the fourth quarter also reflected lower feed grades and lower recoveries due to transitional ore mined from the east cutback of the pit which resulted in lower production compared with the comparable period of 2018.
Zambia is Africa’s second largest copper producer from the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC but the country boasts of having what has been described as the higher grade ores and sits on a rich copper vein that cuts across the Copperbelt region.