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VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe, May 19 (Reuters) - Large gold mines in Zimbabwe could lose unused mining claims to the government, which is seeking to increase the number of small producers as part of its economic empowerment drive, a ministry of mines draft policy paper showed on Friday.
Gold is Zimbabwe's third largest export earner after tobacco and platinum. Small-scale miners have in the last four years ramped up output to nearly half of total production in 2016 on the back of financial and equipment support from the government.
A paper titled "Proposed Command Mining Initiatives" distributed at an annual meeting of the Chamber of Mines in Victoria Falls proposed to "implement the use it or lose it policy on mining claims (for) large mines sitting on unused mining claims."
The government planned "allocation of mining land from reserved areas to small-scale miners" and to reduce fees paid by mining companies and the time it takes to register a mine.
The paper did not specify which companies could lose mining rights. Gold producers operating in Zimbabwe include Caledonia Mining Corporation, Freda Rebecca, which is owned by AIM-listed Asa Resources Group and unlisted London-based Metallon Corporation.
Zimbabwe's total gold output was 22.7 tonnes in 2016, according to national treasury figures, which has set a target of 30 tonnes this year.
Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Khupikile Mlambo told industry officials at the meeting that earnings from mining jumped to $853 million between January and May 12, up from $669 million in the same period last year.
Mlambo said gold exports had benefited from a 5 percent export incentive that producers receive in the form of "bond notes", a surrogate currency officially pegged at par with the U.S dollar.
Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Stoddard and David Evans