Bargain for green energy investment; miners’ recruitment beyond borders – Mubende case study

ASM Gold 6 Jul , 2022
Miners of Mubende-Kassada processing site washing gold ore in local sluicing boxes

One of the mandates of Project Access is recruiting Kenyan Gold artisanal mineral producers (AMPs) and neighbouring miners from Uganda into the lease investment solution. In the quest to recruit at least 35 mining organisations in these two countries, the project’s attention is drawn to central Uganda in the Kassada district. Here, Mubende United Miners Assembly (MUMA), a mining association currently employing at least 3,000 miners, runs its operations on a small hill under the exploration license giving concession rights granted by the Ugandan government.

Buhwezu and Kassanda miners business forums

In February this year, consortium members carried out a mine round table event, explaining to the mining organization of Buhwenzu and Kassada The Impact Facility’s (TIF) mining equipment leasing model. TIF’s team, consisting of David Sturmes and Cyrus Njonde, together with Joshua Rukundo of Solidaridad East and Central Africa, had the opportunity to explain how the leasing model works to the miners.

Cyrus Njonde and Joshua Rukundo in Buhwezu after a miners’ roundtable business meeting.

Since the leasing solution is a new approach to engaging AMPs, most of the miners had hoped to be the first to be considered for the first round of equipment provision, an exciting opportunity to boost their production capacity.

However, the program has to go through various steps to operationalize in Uganda, due to the formal registration processes.

David Sturmes explaining how leasing works to a group of miners from Mubende-Kassanda district in central Uganda

Miners assessment and recruitment exercise

From initial engagement, the Mubende-Kassanda AMPs demonstrated themselves to be organized and business-savvy. Our team led in explaining how to complete client application forms – the application of which by AMPs demonstrates their interest in working with us. The TIF and Solidaridad team recently conducted a follow-up visit to assess the mine site on behalf of the project.

Ore inspection from one of Mubende Association member’s shaft by Joshua

Mubende United Mining Association – Kassanda

At first, one will notice the association’s title is in the name of Mubende, while its operations are in the Kassanda district. Kassanda is located 60km east of Mubende town. Mubende was originally the main district before Kassanda split to exist as a district on its own. By then, the mining association was already registered as Mubende United Mining Association.

The association not only takes pride in calling itself “United” but has also earned the right to do so as per its ways of operation, which is segmented into a mining shaft area in a 1km square concession, primarily on a hilltop. Here, the ore is transported from the hill to the processing areas located 2-3km downhill and to an area restricted from the main road. Motorists must obtain an ore movement permit before passing through the mining area.

Motorist of Mubende miners transporting ore from the shafts to the processing facilities

There are currently 80 active mining shafts – all labelled with shaft numbers – and the main exploration number for the association is posted on a tag in the shaft area. The shaft production records are written under the shaft number, and the association management must verify the number of bags produced before they are ferried to their respective processing facilities.

Documentation and labels in use at the Mubende Association mine site area

Motorists accessing the site receive two permits, both of which need to be signed by the ore processing facility receiving the ore, from where they remain with one copy while the other is returned to the association’s office for traceability and accountability. This ore traceability system helps the group organize payments to shaft owners, landowners, the association’s management, and the licensing authority.

Mine worker sluicing ore using local sluicing boxes in one of the processing facility in Mubende-Kassada

Green energy investment strategy for the mining association

The team has conducted an assessment of six AMPs all of whom are members of the association. They have different ambitions in their working areas, ranging from acquiring processing equipment such as ball mills to haulage trucks for ore and tailings.

The AMPs also seek stable production in their shafts through a consistent power supply. At the time of the assessment, the whole district had been in blackout for three weeks due to the breakdown of the national power line. This not only slows production but also poses a danger to the miners working the deepest areas of the shafts, where oxygen is direly needed.

The association is focused on investing in solar power to provide alternative energy for the shafts operating on the hill. This will enable the use of main grid energy to power the processing facilities. Currently, a single processing site has at least five ball mills, all powered by a 24hp diesel engine. The exhaust from the internal combustion engines produces a lot of carbon as a by-product. There are oil spillages, coupled with the increased downtime to repair and service the engine parts. Alternatively, a ball mill can efficiently run on a small motor whose repair and maintenance costs are negligible.

Diesel engine being used to drive ball mills in one of the processing facilities in Kassada

The group has also expressed an interest in using the additional energy from the proposed solar cells to establish an elution plant. This would enable the final recovery of gold from the leaching process. The AMPs have previously incurred high costs in transporting their carbon to Kampala – and in some cases, being robbed of their hard-earned mineral.

Miners hauling tailing for leaching in nearby leaching tanks

Collective bargaining power through concentrated operations

Maximising mining resources by clustering several operations into service hubs ensures that work is executed at the highest possible capacity, with lower costs for services and equipment – ultimately translating into more profit.

The association has planned to dig adits (horizontal passage into a hill) where all the 80 mining shafts can easily haul their ore to the surface instead of hoisting (vertical movement of ore). Other collective opportunities are: aggregating processing areas into one hub; leveraging one source of power; and using one truck owned by the association for daily haulage of the ore from the production area to the processing area.

The miners are also considering owning one earth-moving machine, which can significantly aid the stockpiling of tailing in the leaching plants. Truly there is no greater wealth than a community looking to thrive by collectively making use of facilities such as power sources, processing centres, and even a standard transporting system for its ore. Mubende United Miners Assembly is leading the way in demonstrating what a united front looks like!