Credit: Oxfam
Rising mineral prices and the struggle to earn a living from agriculture have led to explosive growth in artisanal and small-scale mining.

This is according to a new report on artisanal and small-scale mining from the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF).

An estimated 40.5 million people were directly engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining 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 artisanal and small-scale mining for their livelihoods, the study found.

Despite its low productivity, artisanal and small-scale mining’s share of global mineral production is also rising. About 20% of global gold supply is produced by artisanal and small-scale operators.

Artisanal and small-scale mining is also a major source of minerals indispensable for manufacturing popular electronic products like laptops and phones.

For example, 26% of global tantalum production and 25% of tin come from artisanal and small-scale mining.

“For many people in the world’s poorest countries, artisanal and small-scale mining is the only route out of poverty, or the sole way to boost meager incomes when there are few job alternatives,” says 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 artisanal and small-scale mining 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% 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.

“Formalization has to include miners’ views and it needs to include measures to effectively monitor and enforce regulation,” says 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 road-map towards a more responsible and inclusive artisanal and small-scale mining 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 micro-credits to lend to organized groups of miners and communities, supported by donors
  • Technology and equipment: Improving miners’ access to efficient and cleaner technologies 

Feature image credit: Oxfam