Mining has long been a powerful sector in Zambia, and today still manages to attract the lion's share of FDI coming into the country.

The mining sector is one of Zambia's most dominant sectors, which has traditionally centered around the Copperbelt province. The industry has been commercially active for just under a century, and has experienced some important changes along the way. In the 1970s, the mining sector was nationalized following independence in the 1960s, and Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) was created. ZCCM was responsible for running the country's mining operations as well as being responsible for a number of social services for workers and communities. However, during the 1980s and early 1990s, the combination of a lack of investment capital and low copper prices meant that the government looked toward foreign investors to revitalize the sector again. In the late 1990s, the mining sector was privatized, but ZCCM Investments Holdings (ZCCM-IH) still holds a 10% to 20% stake in most of the country's largest mines. As copper prices began to rise again and with the privatization of the sector, foreign investment came rushing into the country and production rose once again to levels last seen in the early 1970s. Since the privatization of the mines, over $10 billion of FDI has flowed into the sector, and in 2011 86.2% of all new FDI went to the mining industry, according to the Chamber of Mines of Zambia.


The largest segment of the mining sector is copper; however, the country still has large deposits of gold, silver, gemstones, and industrial stones and materials. The majority of the major copper mines are located in Copperbelt province and in Northwestern province. The four largest mining companies—Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) and Mopani Copper Mines in Copperbelt province, FQM Kansanshi and Barrick Lumwana in Northwestern province—account for 70% of the country's copper production.

One of the largest mines is Lumwana Mine and the Malundwe Pit. It is 100% owned by Barrick and has an annual capacity of 20 million tons of ore. Unlike the other three major mines, ZCCM-IH and the government has no shares in the mine, as they were previously sold. In May 2013, the mine has 1,827 direct employees and 3,947 contractors. Uranium has also been found in the ore; however, to date no attempt to extract this material has been made.

The Kansanshi Mine, which is part owned by First Quantum Minerals (79.4%) and ZCCM-IH (20.6%), has an annual production capacity of 12 million tons of sulfide ore, 8.4 million tons of mixed ore, and 6.1 million tons of oxide. The mines high-pressure leach and solvent extraction-electrowinning plant produces 250,000 tons of copper cathode. In 2013, the mine extracted 270,724 tons of copper and 136,056 ounces of gold. Expansion plans are underway to help boost the copper output to over 400,000 tons per annum. In 2012, the mine employed 2,124 direct employees and 10,084 contractors.

The KCM—79.4% owned by Vedanta Resources and 20.6% owned by ZCCM-IH—through its numerous open pits and mines, has an annual production capacity of 9.7 million tons of ore. Konkola also has a tailings leach plant, a copper smelter, and a copper refinery, bringing its production up to 311,000 tons of copper anode and 380,000 tons of copper cathode. Between 2005 and 2012, KCM has invested over $2.6 billion in the mine, including a new smelter and a sulfuric acid plant. KCM is one of the largest employers in the industry, with 8,371 direct employees and 15,138 contractors taken on over 2012.

The Mopani Copper Mines—73.1% owned by Glencore International AG, 16.9% by First Quantum Minerals, and 10% by ZCCM-IH—has a larger metal producing capacity than the other four major mines. It has an annual production capacity of 8 million tons of ore, as well as 307,000 tons of copper cathode, 200,000 tons of copper anode, and 2,400 tons of cobalt metal. The Mopani Copper Mines, another large employer with 8,475 direct employees and 8,708 contractors in 2012, has also been investing large amounts of money in the mine since it was privatized. Between 2000 and 2012, over $2.3 billion has flowed into the mine, helping to buy smelting facilities and acid plants.


Due to Zambia being a landlocked country, getting its minerals to international customers can be expensive at times. The railroad is often seen as unreliable and expensive in Africa, meaning that road is the most preferred route. It costs roughly $120 to transport a ton of copper to Beira, Mozambique or $165 to Durban, South Africa. However, the average total cost, including handling, insurance, and port charges, from smelter to customer port for either Durban or Beira is closer to $190-$200. While Beira is closer than Durban to the copper fields of Zambia, due to the fact it has less frequent calls by shipping lines, means the average cost is higher.

While production per employee in Zambia is lower than the industry average for similar-sized mines, this can be attributed to the age of the mines and the equipment used. KCM and Mopani have some of the least productive workers at 6.5 tons per annum per employee, while Kansanshi and Lumwana are much higher at 46 tons and 24.7 tons per annum per employee, respectively. The average wage for a miner in Zambia is $800 per month, compared to $400 in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. The monthly entry-level wage for a miner is $619.80 in Zambia, higher than in South Africa where miners can expect around $512 when they first start. The higher than average transport cost, low productivity of workers, high wages, and add to those a complicated geological make up, mean that some of the old mines in Zambia are among the most expensive in the world to operate.

Even though the sector has some costs that are on average higher than its competitors, mining is still likely to play a prominent role in the development of Zambia's economy. In 2012, the sector contributed 8% at constant process to the country's GDP, which is a slight fall on the year before. However, this fall does not represent a shrinking mining sector, but more an expansion and diversification of an economy that is rapidly becoming more competitive.