There are significant efforts being made in Africa through various public and private organizations to support the artisanal mining sector and improve their access to markets.
The efforts have acquired the additional support of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Country Programmes that have notably availed financial assistance packages in response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the sector as well as and in aiding the sectors development.
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There are also notable competencies being championed by various platforms in Africa such as the Fair Cobalt Alliance, the Virtu Gem marketing platform, Better Mining Artisanal and Small-Scale Monitoring programme and the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge which has shortlisted projects being implemented in Africa supporting the development of the sector.
It is apparent that the relevance and attention afforded to the artisanal mining sector continues to increase as mineral rich countries seek to optimise all available resources.
Therefore, it is important to utilize this momentum to reinforce some key issues that will set the sector for successful integration.
It is a common error among many mineral rich countries to approach the formalization process of the artisanal sector in a fragmented manner.
Many efforts concentrate on two main areas, that is, finding a licensing strategy and a strategy to collect the sectors produce.
However, it is important to realize that the sector has evolved full cycle and has a robust informal value chain that involves the efforts of various players from the mining site to the global market.
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This chain includes financiers, buyers, independent processing centres, labourers, equipment providers and brokers. Therefore, attempting to fix one element along the chain whilst disregarding the need to also improve the existence of the other value chain participants will result in resistance and lukewarm results.
All formalization efforts should be structured to address the integration and rationalization of the entire value chain and its different skills thus allowing all participants to find suitable entry points and legitimate roles in the systems that are being established.
The artisanal mining value chain and its various participants represent a demographic that is currently cut off from the formal economic system but one that needs to be uplifted and integrated into a sustainable state of economic existence in order to achieve buy in and broad based economic empowerment.
Similarly, there are certain undesirable characteristics that have become common place in the sector such as poor safety and health protocols, poor employment conditions, adverse environmental practices, violence, and the participation of child labour.
While governments are eager to collect and account for the produce of the sector, there should be an equal interest from a structural perspective to transform the ethical and operational dynamics that have evolved with the sector.
It is important to support the sector in a manner that enables it to adopt and maintain principles that underpin responsible and ethical mining practices. This is one of the key deliverables that should be prioritized in formalization programmes.
To date the concept of responsible sourcing of minerals in the artisanal sector has largely been driven by consumer led initiatives and interest groups and this has led to various standards being applied across different mineral groups.
Mineral rich governments need to play a central role in establishing common guidance on the ethical and responsible mining standards that apply to the sector. The regulatory rules and standards applicable to large scale mining entities in respect of environmental, labour, safety and health protocols and business conduct cannot be attained by artisanal sector.
Therefore, appropriately scaled rules and standards need to be created for the sector with benchmarks which are achievable. This is important firstly because it introduces standardized rules which are attainable as well as practical and secondly in that it places government as the driving force in the push to guarantee enforcement and adoption of the benchmarks.
The sector requires assistance, guidance, and oversight to be able to move from its current state to a position where its operations can outgrow its current shortcomings. The steps taken by Ghana through its Community Mining Scheme Programmes (CMS) represent a notable effort in empowering communities that live in mineral rich areas.
It is also notable in that the Scheme is set to receive vital support from various government entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Water Resources Commission, and the Geological Service.
It is important to strengthen formalization efforts by providing artisanal mining entities with access to a broad set of skills, services, and technical support to enable them to move to positive social and economic interactions.
It is also increasingly clear that resolving these issues goes beyond the mere introduction of new mining regulations, governments also need to be proactive in assisting the sector.
The success of formalization efforts requires enlisting other key government ministries for the parallel implementation of wide-ranging socio -economic development initiatives that support rural and peri-urban communities.
The state of the artisanal mining sector partly reflects how rural and peri-urban economies have been left behind and how the current rules and conditions that govern economic participation are unsuited to spur the diversification of opportunities in these areas.
It is important to re-think rules of economic participation to allow for more inclusion by smaller players and smaller communities.
Another important consideration is the range of licensing strategies that are availed to aid formalization.
The licensing options should not be limited to incorporation of entities. While it is important to rationalize how participants enter the sector, the suggested options of licensing should also be reflective of how artisanal mining presents itself on the ground.
Even though there are groups who work together and would find it easy to incorporate under cooperatives, many artisanal miners also work individually, have no permanent groupings and are also nomadic in nature.
The main objective of formalization is to bring the sector under effective control and if this is to be achieved formalization will also need to accommodate flexible registration formats and not be limited to the formation of cooperatives or community entities.
The artisanal sector has become an employment choice for many individuals who transcend locality and, in some instances, even borders.
In order to accommodate this mobility, formalization strategies have to include the registration of participants under a licensing option that can possibly combine prospecting rights and mining rights to enable those who do not want to be constrained into set collectives to also buy into formalization.
Failing to avail such an option will spur those who cannot be accommodated under the incorporation of co-operatives or community entities to continue with their activities in the shadows.
The success of the various formalization efforts of the artisanal mining sector in Africa will depend on how well governments can avail holistic solutions that result in establishing effective control over the sector.
The aim of the efforts should not be developed around delivering quick wins but should instead be directed at delivering a viable and sustainable sector that will have its own unique economic space with resources and opportunities available for growth therein.