/ 30 January 2023

Global tech billionaires eye Zambia’s electric vehicle battery mines


Market optimism is spurring a rush of investments into Zambia’s agriculture and mining sectors, giving the economy new growth impetus.

Investors include Kobold, a consortium linked to tech titans Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, tipped to stir up Zambia’s foreign direct investment (FDI) scene with planned investments into its mining sector.

The California-based mineral exploration firm is eyeing the country’s mines for electric vehicle components, leveraging reformist president Hakainde Hichilema’s efforts to revitalise the economy.

On his landslide poll victory in 2021, part of Hichilema’s economic blueprint entailed placing an electric vehicle battery and components supply chain at the centre of Zambia’s economic transformation architecture. 

Battery technology, critical to improving electric vehicles’ driving range, is heavily dependent on minerals buried beneath the surface of Africa, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia possessing about 70% of the world’s cobalt reserves.

Kobold uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify battery metal deposits. Efficient discovery of reserves will be critical as Hichilema plans to boost the country’s copper production to three million tonnes by 2032, up from 850 000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, agricultural output is also benefiting from renewed investor confidence. In January, Munkotachi, a modest-sized business in the Chongwe district of Lusaka province, was due to start raking in profits from agricultural exports to the European Union.

This follows certification from GlobalG.A.P, a farm assurance programme, paving the way for Zambia’s Hass avocados and avocado oils to be sold in the European Union and other foreign markets. 

According to Mining Weekly, Zambia is also on course to expand its poultry farms. Munkotachi Investments managing director Christopher Lesa told Mining Weekly that plans are underway to create more than 90 agricultural cooperatives, all with at least 20 members each.

Lesa, who aspires to create an “avocado belt”, said the project had government support.

“The government is trying to support SMEs [small and medium enterprises] in so many ways, as well as cooperatives so that people out there can benefit and improve their livelihoods,” he said.

According to the World Bank, the Zambian economy began to rebound in 2021 following Hichilema’s election as president, with GDP growing at 4.6%, from a contraction of 2.8% during the pandemic in 2020. 

High copper prices, post-election market confidence and a continued recovery in the agriculture sector have driven wider economic recovery. 
Fitch Solutions forecasts that while real GDP growth in Zambia slowed to 2.5% in 2022, growth will accelerate again in 2023, driven by a recovery in mining exports and strong private investment. — bird story agency