INVESTOR INTERVIEW: "Africa Mining Forum should serve as an experience exchange, provide a platform for regional and international networking"

INVESTOR INTERVIEW: "Africa Mining Forum should serve as an experience exchange, provide a platform for regional and international networking"

Exclusive interview with Aleksandra Cholewa, Director of Investment and Development at Luma Holding LTD and she serves on the Supervisory Board of LuNa Smelter in Rwanda. Aleksandra is also a returning event ambassador for Africa Mining Forum.
Can we start with some background on yourself and your role?
My background in mining goes back a long way and originates from my family roots. Since time immemorial my family cherished mining traditions. I, myself, was born in the region surrounded by coal mines, Silesia, an industrial part of southern Poland.

I have over 10 years' experience in mining, operating in SEE region and Africa, including the introduction and implementation of mining mechanization as well as new industrial explosives usage. I am interested in different aspects of mining, especially related to the construction phase such as modernization and efficiency within shaft sinking processes.

I have been closely cooperating with Luma Holding for over six years. Firstly, I was engaged as an independent exploration processes expert and industrial project consultant. Subsequently, I joined Luma Holding Group to become its Director of Investment and Development, taking over foreign assets in the Western Balkans and East Africa. I am currently supervising Luma Group’s Rwandan assets as an active member of the LuNa Smelter Supervisory Board.

As an active member of the International Women in Mining, I am proud to be a part of the Luma Holding Group, for which the equality is one of the core values.

Any exciting projects that you are currently involved in that you can share?
Now, LuNa Smelter, a newly established tin smelter in Kigali, is our priority and together with the team, we are excited about the challenges of the development of our exploration assets in Eastern Rwanda. 

We are very proud that LuNa Smelter is the only tin smelter in the region conformant under the Responsible Minerals Assurance Process – the flagship program of the Responsible Minerals Initiative. The assessment proved LuNa Smelter conformity with the requirements of the OECD Due diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chain of Minerals. This also confirms that LuNa meets the demands of the minerals certification scheme of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). Being a leader and serving as an example is an honor but also an important responsibility, therefore further development of the project and strengthening the relations with all LuNa's stakeholders is now our priority. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected operations?
At Luma Holding Group we have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation carefully from the beginning of 2020. During our annual management sessions in Kigali, in February and March, we analyzed different scenarios. Initially we were prepared for the upcoming situation, although such a global scale of the pandemic was not to be expected. I believe in such difficult times, building and maintaining the stakeholders’ trust, through transparency, communication, and consideration for the hosting communities, are the main goals for our organization.

The safety of our employees and operations is top priority so we have introduced procedures and measures that have served us through this time. Online work, division of teams and working groups, proper planning and logistics were the key aspects in the crisis management. I would like to use this opportunity to thank all our employees, especially those who stayed on the task, although they were separated from their families for several long months. 

Of course, the tremendous change of tin price was not acting in our favor. But as LuNa Smelter is the member of a larger, well-diversified group, we managed this issue properly. Nevertheless, we are happy that the trend for tin has been quite positive for the last few weeks.

In your view, what lessons and/or opportunities have COVID-19 presented to the mining sector?
C0VID-19 will have long-term consequences, especially for those who did not havet enough financial capacity, could not afford the long-term shutdowns or simply lost their supply chain stakeholders. That is especially relevant to small-scale mining which is very prevalent in East Africa. It clearly shows the need for vertical consolidation and should act as a good trigger for future cooperation of small-scale producers, investors, and bigger mining operators. 

On the other hand, all efforts put into remote delivery, automation, virtual working could lead towards long term structural change and increased operational efficiency, further digitization and actual implementation of the industry 4.0 requirements.   

What in your view are the other main challenges in the mining sector in East Africa right now?
The most challenging is the question of the transformation of the artisanal mining system to an industrial one. Together with the importance of the traceability schemes, these are keys to the efficient and sustainable development of the full mining value chain. We must support and encourage artisanal miners to implement more industrial mining methods, based on new technologies and promote safe mining.

The question of a proper supply chain due diligence and minerals tracking system is also important as for now, upstream due diligence costs are borne by upstream suppliers instead of the downstream users, who benefit from the data, and those costs of responsible sourcing could act as a negative incentive for small scale producers to participate.

What in your view are the main opportunities currently?
Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa with stable credit rankings and a high level of governance and transparency. I believe significant investment in road, power and communications infrastructure has facilitated continued economic growth. Mining along with tourism, agriculture, and light manufacturing are government priorities for growth. I am sure that Rwanda is ready to create value addition value within the mining sector. An existing gold refinery, active tin smelter, and upcoming tantalum refinery are proving these facts.

What are the challenges this sector faces?
The sector is in strong need of further investment in the education system and knowledge transfer as well as the creation of more job places and implementation of continuous staff training. Easy access to financial markets is also a priority.

What is your vision for this sector?
Sustainable mining will become a driver of the entire region’s development. We must implement a strong dialogue between scientific units, research centers, and investors and as a base for an intellectual deposit for exploration and exploitation. We shall promote experience exchange between countries to develop the best and effective mining solutions. Moreover, added value generation created locally in the region will contribute to the limitation of the global CO2 footprint. LuNa Smelter embraces the decarbonization challenge and improves its production within proximate location from mineralization. 

You were partners with the first Africa Mining Forum last year? What was the experience like?
Last year's Forum was well organized, interesting and served as a good platform for knowledge exchange, regional networking, and discussion on the potential cooperation both on the regional and international levels of the strategic projects. We met our old friends from the sector as well as had a chance to develop network, and those contacts have grown into proper business cooperation.

What is your message as event ambassador about the importance of the Africa Mining Forum as a meeting place for the sector?
Africa Mining Forum should serve as a place of the experience exchange, provide a platform for regional and international networking, and last, but not least, initiate the important discussion on the regional cooperation crucial for the post COVID-19 times.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s event?
I must admit that after several months of lockdown we are keen to come back to Rwanda – a place we call the Luma team’s second home. I’m truly looking forward to traveling to Kigali and jointly analyzing the current state of the mining sector.