Formalising artisanal mining can spark great benefits, say NGOs



 CAPE TOWN ( – Some of the millions of artisanal mineworkers in the world are starting to get recognition, with more of these miners working in partnership with larger mining companies.

This was paying off, said Karen Hayes, senior director of ‘Mines to Markets’ at Washington-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), PACT. “At the heart of it is that we’re not just talking about artisanal mining being a problem, but a very real business and economic opportunity and a real part of the mining sector,” she noted. 

She urged governments to engage with the small-scale and artisanal mining sector through market incentives rather than penalties. Hayes told delegates at the Investing in African Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, earlier this week, that small-scale mining was a direct livelihood for more than one-million people in Zimbabwe alone.

She commended the Chamber of Mines in Zimbabwe for realising the value of small-scale and artisanal mining. She said that, through various pilot projects, artisanal miners were getting technical support and access to shared services.

“They’re becoming business partners and becoming part of the formal market and supply chain.” Hayes argued that providing opportunities to artisanal miners, rather than regarding them as a problem, had numerous benefits. “When mines become more formalised, child labour goes down,” said Hayes, who said nine out of ten miners were in the artisanal mining sector.

Ghana was another country that was paving the way for a better deal for small-scale miners. Ghana Minerals Commission head Toni Aubynn said the small-scale mining sector accounted for 34% of the 4.5-million ounces of gold sold in the country.

Small-scale mining was outlawed in Ghana until the late 1980s when the government recognised that it was an extremely important part of the economy. The country had been a leader in regularising small-scale mining, giving it a legal title, but also organising small-scale miners. The government drew a distinction between legal and illegal mining. People had to be over 18 to be miners and, while they should be local Ghanaians, in reality this was not always the case.

“Many people have moved from using picks and shovels, but there are still a lot of people eking out a living in illegal operations in countries. They need technical and financial training, so that they learn how to manage this as a business that can create wealth for themselves and the nation.”

The small-scale industry had grown to the extent that heavy equipment was now being used in mining. “From a policy perspective, Ghana is recategorising small-scale mining to include artisanal, small-scale and possibly medium-scale mining,” said Aubynn. Randgold Resources group environmental and community development manager Hilaire Diarra said the company had come across a lot of illegal mining.

“It’s important in cultures. People have been doing this for hundreds of years. We respect that, but when they apply for a government permit, the government deems it illegal.” Randgold has tried to help at its operations in Mali by allocating ground with shallow veins for mineralisation. “Many people are so desperate to make a living. But if we offer an alternative, they’ll jump at it. We’ve also rolled this out to other operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

He said the company had also encouraged people to diversify into agriculture, given the food insecurity in the region. As such, it had set up an agricultural college in Mali and had taken on 100 students for three years, accommodating each of them and teaching them farming skills. In the third year, the company tried to establish the students on their own farms. The lure of artisanal mining in the area tempted some students back, but Diarra said Randgold believed it could help to reverse the tendency.


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