LUSAKA, March 16 (Reuters) - Copper production in Zambia, Africa's largest producer, fell 13 percent in January 2010 compared with January 2009 due to earlier mine closures but analysts said there were good prospects for higher output.
Zambia has previously said copper production could hit 1.0 million tonnes by 2011 as new mines come on stream and expansions and upgrades take place at existing mines.
Its copper production declined to 54,518 tonnes in January this year from 62,621 tonnes in the same month last year, the central bank said on Tuesday.
Copper exports in January 2010 increased to 56,676 tonnes versus 55,199 produced in 2009, the Bank of Zambia (BOZ) said.
Economist Oliver Saasa said that despite the output fall Zambia would still produce more than 700,000 tonnes in 2010 as the price outlook appeared positive.
"The decline is insignificant and we still have a very long year to go," Saasa, professor of economics at the University of Zambia, said.
Saasa said the future of both copper and cobalt mining was favourable as most of the mines had embarked on programmes of reinvestment after the global financial crisis.
"One only hopes that politics will not discourage further investment with the elections coming up next year," Saasa said.
The drop in output was blamed on mine closures.
"There was no production at Luanshya mine, while production at Mufulira almost collapsed and there were problems at the Nchanga open pit and all this resulted in the low January copper output," University of Zambia head of mining engineering Mathias Mpande said.
Some of the mines closed due to the global economic downturn.
Mpande said the resumption of operations by Zambia's largest cobalt producer, Chambishi Metals, led to higher output of cobalt in January 2010 over the same month last year.
Cobalt production in January 2010 shot up to 734 tonnes from 367 tonnes in January last year and exports increased to 731 tonnes from 356 tonnes in 2009, the central bank said.
Cobalt production in 2009 rose to 5,879 tonnes from 4,617 tonnes in 2008, and exports rose to 5,868 tonnes in 2009 from 4,610 tonnes, the Bank of Zambia said.
Copper output in Zambia rose 14 percent to 697,860 tonnes last year.
Frederick Bantubonse, the general manager of the Chamber of Mines of Zambia, said that to boost output quicker, the southern African nation should restore investor confidence, which was eroded by the introduction of higher taxes in 2008.
Copper mining is Zambia's economic lifeblood and the mines are a major employer in the country of 12 million people.
Foreign mining companies in Zambia include London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc (VED.L), Glencore International [GLEN.UL] of Switzerland and Metorex (MTXJ.J) of South Africa.