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Artisanal and small-scale mining

Explosive Growth in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Amid Rising Prices: IGF Study

January 22, 2018

Rising mineral prices and the struggle to earn a living from agriculture have led to explosive growth in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), according to a new report from the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development.

An estimated 40.5 million people were directly engaged in ASM in 2017, up from 30 million in 2014, 13 million in 1999 and 6 million in 1993, the study found. That compares with only 7 million people working in industrial mining in 2013.

Around 150 million people across 80 countries in the global south currently depend on ASM for their livelihoods, the study found.

Despite its low productivity, ASM’s share of global mineral production is also rising. About 20 per cent of global gold supply is produced by artisanal and small-scale operators. ASM is also a major source of minerals indispensable for manufacturing popular electronic products like laptops and phones. For example, 26 per cent of global tantalum production and 25 per cent of tin come from ASM.

“For many people in the world’s poorest countries, ASM is the only route out of poverty, or the sole way to boost meagre incomes when there are few job alternatives,” said IGF Director Greg Radford. “This report will help our members support the sector’s potential to enhance livelihoods and spur economic development while managing persistent challenges such as improving health and safety and reducing the sector’s environmental footprint.”

As ASM relies on a mostly unskilled workforce using rudimentary tools and techniques, its environmental and health and safety practices tend to be very poor. In many countries, 70 to 80 per cent of small-scale miners are informal. Informality underpins the sector’s poor performance and traps the majority of miners and communities in cycles of poverty and exclusion from legal protection and support.

“Formalisation has to include miners’ views and it needs to include measures to effectively monitor and enforce regulation,” said Fitsum Weldegiorgis, one of the report’s authors and a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), which was commissioned to research the report. “Streamlined licensing processes that make it easy, cost-effective and rewarding to obtain a licence will help. As will technical and financial support to meet the licensing requirements and—once licensed—will continue to improve performance.”

According to the report, a roadmap towards a more responsible and inclusive ASM sector requires:

  • Know-how: Building capacity through local institutional partnerships
  • Organization: Encouraging miners to form cooperatives and associations
  • Collaboration: Encouraging large-scale mining companies to support capacity building
  • Capital: Using microcredits to lend to organized groups of miners and communities, supported by donors
  • Technology and equipment: Improving miners’ access to efficient and cleaner technologies

Read more about global ASM progress and a review of key figures and issues in the report.

The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) supports more than 60 nations committed to leveraging mining for sustainable development to ensure that negative impacts are limited and financial benefits are shared.

It is devoted to optimizing the benefits of mining to achieve poverty reduction, inclusive growth, social development and environmental stewardship. The International Institute for Sustainable Development has served as Secretariat for the IGF since October 2015. Core funding is provided by the Government of Canada. For more information please visit  

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is a policy and action research organization. It promotes sustainable development to improve livelihoods and protect the environments on which these livelihoods are built. IIED specializes in linking local priorities to global challenges. Based in London, UK, it works in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific, with some of the world’s most vulnerable people to strengthen their voice in the decision-making arenas that affect them — from village councils to international conventions. For more, please visit