Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) provides a livelihood for 190 million people worldwide. At the same time, the sector—which includes informal individual miners seeking a subsistence livelihood as well as small-scale commercial mining entities—poses challenges for governments in about 80 countries where ASM continues to grow.
The IGF recently launched a joint report entitled Global ASM Progress: A Review of Key Numbers and Issues. It explored a number of topics: regional trends and updates on key ASM numbers; environment, health and safety impacts and remedial efforts; ASM interface with large-scale mining; alternative livelihoods and diversification; mineral certification schemes for ASM; and ASM formalization.
Formalizing ASM could bring existing informal income-earning activities and economies into the formal sector through legal, regulatory and policy frameworks, potentially transforming the lives and safety of millions of people worldwide who depend on the sector.
To be successful, this process must address the key barriers associated with the sector, while also supporting and incentivizing miners to become formalized.
What are six of the ways we can formalize ASM to bring about potential benefits to millions?
Conducive and Comprehensive Legal Frameworks
Comprehensive legislation specific to ASM is needed and should account for ASM’s diverse character in countries where ASM is illegal or where it is legal but unregulated. In countries where ASM is legal, reforms to existing legislation should prioritize the ASM sector for national development. Considerations should include: licensing; access to land; gender equality; community participation; and environmental, safety and labour standards.
Access to Geological Data
Without access to geological data, those working in the ASM sector are often left with little to drive their activities except guesswork or trial and error. This often results in low yields, loss of investment and increased environmental degradation. Mapping a country’s potential reserves and land use, and providing access to this data, is crucial to determining appropriate locations for ASM. Benefits to small-scale miners would include: more efficiency and longevity at sites, minimized environmental degradation and improved profitability.
Access to Capital
Debt and poverty are major concerns in ASM as informal work means miners cannot access finance given their non-legal status. However, a certain level of capitalization is required to register and gain a concession and to buy the necessary equipment to process minerals and mine. Methods to increase access to credit and finance include microfinance credit and savings, grants and government loan facilities.
Access to Equipment
Another major challenge for ASM miners is not having the equipment or resources to be able to “replicate or adapt mining techniques.” To increase access to equipment for those in the ASM sector, equipment should: be simple in design and able to be produced locally, be affordable to individual miners, and combine both manual and mechanized processing techniques. Hire purchase loan schemes and centralized processing centres can enable alternative access to equipment.
In the past, a poor understanding of the dynamics of ASM communities led to inappropriate technologies and support services. Capacity building can spur successful formalization within the ASM sector if training programs promote best practices and focus on practical mining-related topics, are geared towards women and their integration into the mining sector, are tailored to the socioeconomic characteristics of the individual mining communities, and provide education and resources on how to foster partnerships with stakeholders, including community organizations and the private sector.
Dialogue between ASM Stakeholders
Individuals within the ASM sector must be involved throughout the formalization process to ensure changes are in tune with realities on the ground. To create long-term sustainable formalization strategies, a number of things need to be considered, including: creating a platform for positive and regular dialogue between ASM stakeholders and government to provide a conduit for consultation on changes, informing dialogue based on research on mining communities to understand the complexities of the ASM sector, and establishing a co-created roadmap outlining interventions with input from various stakeholders, including non-mining ones, at all levels.
Read more about global ASM progress and a review of key figures and issues in this report.