The over reliance on artisanal mining in Rwanda limits the extraction of minerals to just under 40 per cent of what would be extracted, leaving a large chunk of the sector's yields untapped.
This was observed by officials in the mining sector, industry players, during a countrywide tour that saw media practitioners visit different mining concessions as part of the Mining Week.
The tour aimed at looking at the state of mining in the country, challenges and the available potential of the sector that is currently the country's leading revenue earner.
For context, the sector's annual revenues hit $585M in September 2022 up from $516 M in 2021 and is poised to reach $1.5 billion by the end 2024, according to government projections.
However, officials say, this target will only be reached if there is a significant investment in the sector, to improve the uptake of technology to help fully optimize the country's mining potential.
The tours covered mining sites including; Miyove gold mine in Gicumbi District, Bugarama mines where coltan, wolfram, cassiterite, lithium and beryllium are extracted and in Nyamyumba Sector of Rubavu District, where coltan, lithium, beryllium and cassiterite are extracted.
In all sites, there was a significant deficit of minerals extracted compared to initial deposits targeted.
Most mines still use rudimentary tools, leading to little daily output. The processing phase, crucial for extracting the minerals, involves archaic water sieving methods, resulting in a mere fraction of the potential yield.
For instance, Miyove mining site that is operated by Ngali Mining Ltd, has the highest concentration of gold with the estimation of over 2,500 kilogrammes, located in over 1450 hectares, according to a report from SRK Consulting, an exploration firm from South Africa, offering services in soil and rock mechanics and tailings disposal
Ngali Mining Ltd, which holds the key to unlock these precious minerals, valued at approximately Rwf80 million per kilogramme, still faces the hurdle lies, not in scarcity but in outdated mining techniques plaguing the industry.
At this mine, 2.5 grammes are extracted per tonne of processed ore and in total, at least 24 tonnes are processed which yields 60 grammes of gold per day.
Incentivising the sector
Donat Nsengumuremyi, Division Manager of the Mining Extraction and Inspection Division at Rwanda Mining Board (RMB), says that the issue of inefficient processing methods is common in all mines, adding that it is inhibiting the growth of the sector, despite its high potential.
"The challenge lies in the inability to process and extract more than 30 percent of the produced ores, despite successful mining operations. This is an urgent problem to deal with."
Nsengumuremyi, however, believes that the current incentives to attract modern processing equipment from the private sector could be a shot in the arm for the industry.
"We are encouraging the private sector to bring in advanced processing equipment, and local companies in Rwanda are urged to scale up local production of these machines to cut down on import costs and spare parts," he said.
Janvier Ndabananiye, Director of Operations at New Bugarama Mining Company, which operates in the Bugarama area shared similar sentiments with, citing the need to transition from artisanal mining to semi-mechanisation.
"We are swapping hand tools for light machine-like jackhammers powered by electricity to improve extraction and processing, with an aim to get higher mineral yields."
"We are at the developmental stage, exploring new deposits and a roadmap guiding mining up to 75 metres deep for fresh mineral zones," he added.
Jean Paul Nturanyi, an experienced miner at Bugarama mine, proposed techniques of using explosives for easier rock blasting, a method that improves both the time it takes as well as the produce.
"We have replaced pans with shaking tables for more effective mineral extraction."
Industry players believe that a huge amount of hope shines through modern refining technologies embraced by a few.
When contacted for a comment, Jean Malik Kalima, Chairperson of the Rwanda Mining Association, stressed the need for robust financial support to procure necessary equipment.
"We are also focused on refining facilities for value addition, working closely with government support to enhance on-site processing, aiming for maximum mineral extraction."
Despite progress in processing efficiency, Kalima told The New Times that; "There is 50 to 60 per cent loss due to insufficient access to investment loans," adding, "Therefore, we are seeking a guarantee fund from the government to support investments."