Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM), is carried out by an estimated number of 15 million miners, provides an approximate 100 million people with a living, and accounts for about 15% of the worldwide primary gold production. About half of the world’s estimated 30 million ASM miners are dedicated to gold extraction.

The number of people involved in ASM in general has risen dramatically during the last years, with Nigeria contributing between 50,000 to 150,000 man power to this sector, and ASM is often referred to as a new “phenomenon” and alleged “problem”. ASM is however as old as human civilization and only recently, during the first half of the past century, the technological divide between large and small scale mining occurred. Global awareness about the importance and extension of this sector is rising and focusing on social and environmental responsibility.
Artisanal Small Scale Miners at Sunke Zamfara Nigeria

 In Zamfara, ASM is a spontaneous self-organizing social system while industrial mining is planned and centrally coordinated. Artisanal miners engage in mining to earn a living, while industrial mining is driven by corporate economic considerations. Miners focus on industrially not economic small high-grade mineral deposits in ‘open access’ condition, and employ a ‘common pool resources’ management approach. Truth be told, ASM is an important source of local income and often drives local development. Low technologic levels, at the budget of rural communities, have however had serious consequences on health, safety and environment in Zamfara. A griming example is the lead poisoning epidemic that caused the death of 400 children in seven artisanal gold mining communities in Zamfara during the hazy weather of 2010.
Conducting a preliminary Baseline Study of ASMs in Zamfara
In Zamfara, the contamination of compounds with high lead tailings is quite alarming, and calls for urgent attention. In countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, they have succeeded in stopping the use of mercury, a more potent and deadly heavy metal than lead. The widespread use of mercury is a matter of global concern, while Zamfara still struggles with lead extermination, how to encourage Artisanal miners to stop the use of mercury still remains a big task. Global mercury emissions from gold ASM are currently estimated in the range of 1000 tons per year, with Nigeria contributing about 10 to 25 tons. Only half a decade ago, in 2005, estimations were still in the range of 320 tons or 17 per cent of anthropogenic mercury emissions. Under current conditions, it is reasonable to expect this trend to continue in the coming years.

Legal frameworks (or their absence) and economic interests of power groups force ASM in many countries into the informal sector. Given a certain complexity of the issues related with ASM, a common approach of the past was to ignore and marginalize artisanal miners. This made problems and especially resource conflicts, e.g. between communities and industrial mining only worse. National and even networked efforts remained isolated. Only recently, the need to engage in formalization processes in a multi-stakeholder context of Governments, Industry, Civil Society, ASM, Consumers, and Development Agencies is slowly becoming a common consensus.

On October 29, 2013, about 60 participants, at a stakeholders meeting organized by Global Rights [a human rights based non-profit] and Follow The Money [A Connected Development transparency and accountability non-profit network], sat in the conference room of the Fulbe Villa in Gusau, Zamfara, in Northern Nigeria to deliberate on how artisanal miners can leave out of poverty, sustainably without tampering with the natural ecosystem. One of the salient issues was the process of formalization of ASMs, and the capacity of the state ministry of health to carry out emergency response to lead poisoning cases that has become rampant in the communities. In Nigeria, ASM are recognized immediately they have been issued certificated to carry out such mining practices, and it is been supported by the National Minerals and Metal Policy, and the Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act, both actualized in 2007.
Cross section of participants at the Stakeholders meeting in Fulbe Villa, Gusau, Zamfara
At the meeting, it was affirmed that the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development [MMSD] has commenced with the process of formalizing artisanal miner, with about 45 registered ASM cooperatives. For the past 20 years, “the individual Gold panner is a myth” as ASMs must be organized into small work groups or larger clusters of workgroups. With lessons learnt from other part of the world, government can never be in a position to efficiently enforce compliance of thousands of individual miners. In Peru, ASM were already formed as clusters of workgroups, while in Mongolia they formed partnerships. Nevertheless, legalization alone makes environmental compliance not enforceable, government must introduce locally, workable, and adaptable technologies, which must be tested locally. In Mongolia, when the use of mercury was banned in 2008, the government introduced a viable technology solution for a mercury and cyanide free processing plant.

In the same light, the MMSD has taken a bold step in the purchase of 3 Egoli machines and 9 wet milling machines. However, one may ask if that will be enough for the growing population of ASM in Zamfara. More often than not, the response of governments is to ignore ASM, but legalization of ASM needs however to be seen as a first step that is part of a larger strategy for ASM formalization integrating social, environmental, labour, health and safety, economic, commercial, gender, organizational and technical dimensions. The implementation of most technical environmental improvements requires a balanced combination of their demonstrated feasibility, capacity building in miners as well as in support organizations and supervision agencies, and realistic enforceable requirements for which the technology provides a solution. Within a formalization process, this creates intentional artificial win-win options.

Environmental and health management of ASM needs to be seen in a wider context of responsible mining. Lead poisoning and contamination is highly prevalent in Zamfara, while acute mercury poisoning is very rare, opposite to chronic poisoning which accumulates often over years. For miners, the toxic effects of mercury are not as obvious as for scientists. Concerns of workplace safety, the risks of accidents, and the often lacking health services in mining communities in combination with generally harsh and unhealthy living conditions in remote places are perceived a much higher priority. For the umpteenth time, the stakeholders have called on the state ministry of health to rise up to its responsibilities. “Many times we have called on the state ministry of health to join in complementing the work of humanitarian organizations working in treating lead poisoned children, but no response” said Ahmad Ashim These concerns have to be taken serious, as they directly affect the quality of life of the miners and their families, and because without addressing them, projects not only lose credibility in the eyes of the miners but fail to contribute to responsible ASM and sustainable development.

Responsible ASM cannot be done in an unorganized way. ASM can only be organized if ASM organizations are in place. ASM organizations need to be empowered to be able to organize the extractive activity. ASM is a (self-) employment generating activity in remote areas, whereby the location is determined by the mineral deposit. Miners and their families create their communities and livelihoods and aspire development, still in the same way as miners did 150 years ago by creating the gold rush settlement of Sacramento and converting it into the Capital of the US State of California. In the already existing and regulated societies of today, a broader formalization approach must support and accompany the miners in this process. An ASM formalization process therefore must not be limited to the pure legal aspects, but incorporate community development and broad capacity building. This creates the capacity to comply with social and environmental requirements and makes requirements enforceable. ASM communities require equal rights and a similar level of attendance by the public sector as other communities; most “problems of ASM” are home-made and are created by denying miners these rights, and marginalizing them.