ZAMBIA has recorded a huge increase in its copper production for 2020 to over 882,000 metric tonnes from 796,432 tonnes recorded in 2019, mainly triggered by record-breaking output from First Quantum Minerals’ (FQM) subsidiary companies, which collectively posted the highest last year.

But Zambia Chamber of Mines data has revealed that last year’s copper output still lags behind the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) impressive 1.55 million tonnes that country’s mines produced last year.

However, Mines Minister Richard Musukwa has insisted that the rise in the country’s mining productivity has been as a result of government’s “favourable policies and interventions”, coupled with expansion projects and ramping up of operations.

According to official Ministry of Mines data seen by Diggers!, Zambia’s total copper production last year jumped to over 882,000 tonnes from 796,432 tonnes produced in 2019, mainly buoyed by FQM’s Sentinel Copper Mine and its Solwezi-based Kansanshi mining unit, who produced a combined record-breaking 486,190 tonnes.

The total copper production included all of the country’s 10 large-scale mining operations as well as small-scale mining operations, which accounted for at least 13,391 metric tonnes from the total tonnage.

Kansanshi Mining Plc maintained its status as Africa’s top copper producing company having produced 253,154 tonnes, narrowly beating its Kalumbila-based counterpart, the Sentinel, operated by Kalumbila Minerals Limited (KML), which posted 251,175 tonnes last year compared to around 220,000 tonnes in 2019.

A further breakdown of the data reveals that Lumwana, majority owned by Barrick Gold Company, another Canadian miner, posted the third highest at its open pit mine of 124,969 tonnes last year, up from 107,902 tonnes produced in 2019.

Other notable increases were achieved by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), who posted 63,027 tonnes last year, marginally up from 61,171 tonnes in 2019, making the now-government-controlled mining company the country’s fourth top copper producer and defying the odds of its ongoing operational challenges under Provisional Liquidation.

Glencore-owned Mopani Copper Mines on the other hand posted 34,479 tonnes last year, up from 30,078 tonnes produced in 2019 making it the country’s seventh top copper producer behind CNMC Luanshya and NFCA, who both registered 56,612 and 48,883 tonnes, respectively.

Closer analysis of KCM’s output last year reveals the mining company produced more copper in at least six months of last year, up from 2019 posting a high of 6,035 tonnes in the final month of last year.

And commenting on last year’s increased copper output, Musukwa hailed the country’s higher production as down to government’s “favourable policies and interventions”, coupled with expansion projects and ramping up of operations.

“The favourable policies and interventions implemented by government, coupled with expansion projects and ramping up of operations, led to an increase in copper production by both large-scale and small-scale mining companies, except for Lubambe and Chibuluma that recorded a decrease in production. The decrease in production at Chibuluma was due to suspension of operations while Lubambe mine experienced operational challenges,” Musukwa told journalists during the unveiling of the results in Lusaka, Tuesday.

“The country recorded an increase in copper production in 2020 with eight of the 10 large-scale mining companies recording an increase in copper production. The sector performed better than anticipated as copper production increased to 882,061.46 tonnes in 2020 compared to 796,430.77 tonnes recorded in 2019, representing an increase of 9.71 per cent. Copper production by large-scale mines increased to 868,670.46 in 2020 compared to a production of 787,698.77 in 2019, representing an increase of 9.32 per cent. Equally, copper production by small-scale mines increased to 13,391 tonnes in 2020 from 8,732 tonnes recorded in 2019, representing an increase of 34.8 per cent. The increase in copper production by large scale mines is mainly attributed to the increase in production by Kalumbila Minerals and Kansanshi Mine Plc, while the increase in copper production by small-scale mines was due to increased processing capacities by small-scale mines in 2020 as compared to 2019 as well as the stabilised power supply to plants.”

But Chamber data on the other hand, revealed that Zambia’s increased copper productivity still lagged behind the DRC, which posted around 1.55 million tonnes last year, almost double what Zambia’s entire mining sector produced.

The DRC still remains Africa’s biggest producer of the red metal, having eclipsed its southern neighbour back in 2013 when it managed to produce 970,000 tonnes of copper compared to Zambia’s 760,000 tonnes produced that same year.

According to the Chamber, the only time the two countries have been at par was in 2017 when both countries produced a joint 850,000 tonnes.

The increased copper output also coincided with rising copper prices on the international market, which have now soared to over US $9,000 per metric tonne for the very first time in nearly 10 years.