LUSAKA, July 2 (Reuters) - Copper production in Zambia, Africa's leading producer, rose 16 percent in the first five months of 2010, shored up by rising global metals prices, Bank of Zambia figures showed on Friday.
Copper output at 321,132 tonnes from January to May was higher than the 276,230 tonnes the southern African country produced during the same period last year.
The central bank said in a fortnight report that copper exports increased marginally to 345,329 tonnes in the first five months of 2010 versus 244,873 tonnes in 2009.
Cobalt production increased to 3,210 tonnes in 2010 from 1,613 last year and exports shot up to 3,198 tonnes to May this year from 1,587 tonnes in 2009, the Bank of Zambia said.
Chibamba Kanyama economist at the country's main think-tank, the Economics Association of Zambia, told Reuters copper output had risen following the opening of new mines like Equinox Minerals' (EQN.TO)(EQN.AX) Lumwana mine and the increase in copper prices
"It was not cost efficient to carry out mining activities in certain parts of the mines when the price of copper was low but with the rise in prices it is now profitable to carry out mining in areas that were considered expensive," Kanyama said.
Kanyama said Zambia was likely to achieve its target to raise copper production to about 1 million tonnes by 2011, from just below 700,000 tonnes in 2009.
"Copper prices are cyclical and the mining companies are rallying behind the high price to maximize output before the cycle goes down," Kanyama said.
Kanyama said cobalt output had almost doubled following the re-opening of Zambia's largest cobalt producer, Chambishi Metals Plc.
Copper mining is Zambia's economic lifeblood and the mines are a major employer in the country of over 12-million people.
Foreign mining companies in Zambia include London-listed Vedanta Resources (VED.L), Canada's First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO), Glencore International of Switzerland [GLEN.UL] and Metorex of South Africa (MTXJ.J).