Tin miner Woodcross Resources has launched its refinery at Mbarara, Uganda – the first in the country. The company has been developing this facility since a series of regulatory changes prohibited concentrate exports, and has become the first integrated tin producer in Uganda.

Uganda’s President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and the Minister of Energy & Mineral Development, Dr Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu, last week attended the opening of the facility, which is only the third tin smelter on the continent.

Despite Africa’s contribution of 12.0% of mined tin in 2023, smelting capacity in Africa is very limited. Existing operations in Rwanda and in DR Congo together provide only 0.3% of global refined tin supply, with the vast majority of tin concentrates being exported to smelters in Asia.

The new facility in Mbarara district has a nameplate throughput capacity of 1,600 tpa, with output approximately 1,000 tpa of LME-conformant tin ingots grading 99.85% Sn. The refinery is located under 50 km from Woodcross’ two existing mines at Ntungamo and Isingiro.

In 2022, new mining regulations came into force, introducing a new licensing regime and an effective ban on concentrate exports. In December 2023, Energy & Mineral Development Minister Dr Nankabirwa announced statutory changes to reinforce this with an increased minimum export grade for tin of 99.85%, aligning with the Government’s wider mineral strategy for increased value addition.

While Woodcross Resources’ development plans for their two mining licences and four additional exploration permits have been on hold since the regulatory changes, the completion of the commissioning of their refinery will allow the company to continue plans to formalise artisanal operations and develop its small-scale mining operations.

Projects to formalise and develop artisanal mining operations are increasingly prevalent around the world, and particularly in Africa, where an estimated 53% of mined tin supply originates from artisanal and small-scale mining operations.

Our view: At present, Uganda is a small tin producer, with mined tin production less than 1,000 tpa, but the opening of the country’s first tin refinery marks a significant milestone for the reopening of the Ugandan tin industry.