Group seeks end to neglect of small scale miners

International Institute for Environment and Development says small scale mining can be a force for good just as small scale agriculture.

The neglect of artisanal and small scale mining must come to an end, the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED, a policy and action research organisation which works to promote sustainable development in ways that protect the environments, has said.

The organisation said small-scale and artisanal mining, a sector that governments and development agencies often see as a problem could be a source of sustainable livelihoods for millions of marginalised people.

In a report released on Tuesday, the organisation highlighted the knowledge gaps in the sector and proffered options and approaches to address the challenges. IIED also gave information for a major project-in-the-making, which will aim to help policymakers ensure small-scale mining meets its potential to improve lives and take better care of local environments.

“Governments, development agencies and the private sector have tended to overlook small-scale mining, seeing it as a source of problems or something that should not exist,” says Abbi Buxton, writer of the 40-page report titled ‘Responding to the challenge of artisanal and small-scale mining- How can knowledge networks help?’

“This neglect has to end, particularly as the demand for mineral resources continue to grow,” Ms. Buxton said in the report

IIED said that artisanal mining can be a force just as good as small-scale agriculture.

“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,” says IIED. “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.”

According to the organisation, the sector is “a paradox — productive but undervalued, conspicuous yet overlooked, and ‘small-scale’ but economically and socially significant. It produces about 85 per cent 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”.

Overall, it said Artisanal and Small-scale Mining, ASM, employs ten times more people than large-scale mining. But because it takes place in very remote areas, it usually involves poor and vulnerable people, — including women and children — and is renowned for severe pollution and harsh working conditions.

Despite all of this, the organisation is of the view that development agencies and national authorities have given little attention to the sector and how to make it sustainable. Instead, the organisation says, development agencies have been 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. As a result, many are often driven to operate illegally – and it is this illegality that has biased attitudes about the whole ASM sector,” IIED said.

Some of the other structural challenges as highlighted by IIED include poor laws, policies and implementation and government marginalisation or repression; cultural marginalisation and exclusion of certain demographic groups; uncontrolled migration; low barriers to entry into informal or illegal mining with its poor social and environmental protections; poverty driven, short-term decision making; poor access to financial services, market information, technology, and geological data; political exclusion and ‘policy blindness’; and a serious lack of data on ASM individuals and communities that reveal the true scale, nature and contribution of the sector.

As noted by the organisation, this scale of mining occurs in some of the most remote areas in the world and involves some of the world’s poorest people

“Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) includes 20–30 million people worldwide, with three to five times that number indirectly supported through their activities. Yet development donors, governments, wider industry players and NGOs often neglect this sector, focusing on ASM’s negative impacts rather than on addressing its structural challenges to improve the sector’s opportunities for sustainable development,” IIED held.

The diversity of sector players usually include: women, children, migrants and the most vulnerable. Overall, artisanal and small-scale mining contributes 15–20 per cent of global minerals and metals. Within this, the sector produces approximately 80 per cent of all sapphires, 20 per cent of all gold and up to 20 per cent of diamonds.

Abounding challenges

Often, artisanal and small-scale miners lack the most basic social and economic infrastructure needed to break out of extreme poverty making them unable to successfully educate their children, build upon their productive assets, and move ahead economically, IIED said.

The organization highlighted some of the challenges including inappropriate technologies; poor information, low levels of environmental awareness and a low asset base that perpetuate this poverty trap.

Women and children are the worst hit of pollution caused by unsafe methods of small-scale mining.

Women are often involved in processing and waste disposal, exposing them to harmful chemicals, with severe consequences for family well-being and health, including during pregnancy.

Children undertake arduous activities such as heavy lifting, digging, ore haulage and transport from as young as six years old and are working underground from the age of nine.

It is one of the worst forms of child labour because of widespread and severe hazards that risk death, injury and disease (ILO 2005).

Just recently, a lot of lives were reportedly lost at Bagega, a remote village in Zamfara State, Nigeria, due to lead poisoning.

Reports estimated that over 400 children had already died from lead pollution. Bagega is far and remotely located, perhaps that is the reason the government has shown reluctance visiting the place.

On January 24, the Senate Committee visited Bagega after receiving ominous reports on how lead poisoning ravages the community, decided to see what could be done to turn the tide and save the vulnerable children from death.

The committee gathered that the death toll was as a result of the very crude gold mining techniques adopted by the villagers. People were inadvertently poisoning themselves and their children. The gold ore was deeply laden with lead, which the children ingested freely.

Way Forward

In order to address these challenges, there is need for innovative and effective policy solutions which should incorporate the ASM community knowledge on local realities, informed knowledge of what has and hasn’t worked, and the use of research-based knowledge where highly political issues require greater simplicity or independent views, IIED said.

“There is a large amount of high quality practice-informed knowledge in the ASM sector that has not necessarily been written down or publicly shared. This knowledge is held by private sector, public sector and civil society. It could be put to good use if captured effectively using reliable and transferable research methods across the diverse range of stakeholders in sector” it said, adding however that there is currently no way of systematically capturing this knowledge and providing spaces where it can be shared and fed into policy decision making.

“There are numerous international conferences and initiatives looking at policy issues of mining and sustainable development. A ‘dialogue series’ offers a physical space that brings diverse stakeholders together around a table to build trust and engage in in-depth, solution-oriented discussions” the organisation said.

IIED’s new programme of work follows earlier work on mining. In 2000-2002, the institute ran the ‘Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development’ project, a major review that gathered evidence and engaged stakeholders around the question of ‘how can mining and minerals best contribute to the global transition to sustainable development?’ In 2012, IIED published a ten year review to assess progress and identify the way ahead. ASM was identified as an area where little progress has been made over the past decade.

This new programme will seek to address some of the underlying and on-going challenges to ensure progress over the next ten years. It will overcome weaknesses in the way that knowledge is gathered and influences policy, such as the lack of information from artisanal or small-scale mining communities, and limited coordination between sector stakeholders.

It intends to promote dialogue, learning and leadership at national and international levels and find practical solutions to sector-wide challenges, such as child labour, health hazards, informality, human rights, pollution, and transparency in supply chains. It will embrace diverse collaborations at national and international level.

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