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Uganda’s gold exports jumped 23 per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year, for the first time overhauling coffee as the country’s topmost foreign exchange earner, latest statistics from the Bank of Uganda (BoU) show.

BoU said the country exported gold worth US $514 million last year, compared to US$418 million fetched in 2017.

In 2018, coffee earnings amounted to US$436 million, a 21 percent decline from the previous year.

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Officials say gold exports from Uganda started to grow steadily in 2015 after the opening of a major refiner-African Gold Refinery (AGR) which is located in Entebbe, Wakiso District.

AGR is worth US $15 million was opened two years ago in a bid to reduce revenue lost due to export of raw gold. While opening the refinery then, President Yoweri Museveni said the refinery was the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa apart from one in South Africa. The refinery has the capacity to process and refine raw gold to pure gold of 99, 99 percent, according to the owners.

Alain Goetz, Chief Executive Officer of AGR said the facility would be producing one tonne of pure gold per month with a prospect of increasing over time.

Adam Mugume, Bank of Uganda’s executive director for research told Reuters in an email last year’s jump was caused by an additional two small refiners in the country.

“Currently, we have three firms processing gold for export in Uganda. In 2017 we had one. These firms source for gold all over Africa, thus the increase in … exports of gold,” he said.

A decade ago Uganda’s gold shipments stood at under US $10 million.