Small-scale, artisanal mining: problem or source of sustainable livelihoods?

Small-scale, artisanal mining: problem or source of sustainable livelihoods?

(Edited by Issa Sikiti da Silva). The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has this week thrown down the gauntlet into the debate surrounding the ‘controversial’ industry of small-scale and artisanal mining – seen often by many governments and development agencies as a problem – saying it could be a source of sustainable livelihoods for millions of marginalised people.

In a report released yesterday, researchers at London-IIED said they have identified the serious knowledge gaps in the sector and were busy working on a major new project, which they said will help policymakers ensure small-scale mining meets its potential to improve lives and take better care of local environments.

It will do this by connecting stakeholders, including miners and their communities, and ensuring that better quality information is generated and used effectively in policymaking at local, corporate, national and international levels, London-based IIED said in a statement.

“Small-scale and artisanal mines can be a force for good just as small-scale forestry and agriculture are – but right now they operate in a hidden world,” IIED’s Sarah Best said.

“We want to identify ways to overcome the challenges — in information, investment and institutions — that prevent small-scale mining from realising its potential to contribute to sustainable development.”

The sector is a paradox — productive but undervalued, conspicuous yet overlooked, and ‘small-scale’ but economically and socially significant, Best said, adding that the sector produces about 85% of the world’s gemstones and 20-25 per cent of all gold.

Its mines provide jobs and income for 20-30 million of the world’s poorest people and support the livelihoods of five times that number, Best said, adding that overall artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) employs ten times more people than large-scale mining.

But she said it takes place in very remote areas, usually involves poor and vulnerable people, — including women and children — and is renowned for severe pollution and harsh working conditions.

Sarah said: “Despite all of this, development agencies and national authorities have historically given little attention to the sector and how to make it sustainable, instead focusing on large scale mining.

“Rather than supporting small-scale mining, governments’ policies are often poorly designed or implemented, or even repressive. The miners themselves lack access to the rights, financial services, market information and technology they need to make this is a prosperous economic activity with reduced environmental impacts.

*Photo by Marieke Heemskerk. Small-scale miners looking for gold in Nigeria.

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