Sustainability in Artisanal Mining: the Role of Major Stakeholders

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The case of Ghana Introduction Mining can be traced back in history when its activities were informal and unregulated. Today, the formal mining industry can be said to be a ‘child’ of an informal mining sector whose contribution to the development of mining cannot be overemphasized. Some countries like Canada, United States, Australia and others in the course of developing their mining sector, formalized their artisanal gold mining industry through the provision of services such as transportation, communication, technical services, access to markets, and in particular capitalization (Lynch, 2002). This process made it possible to streamline the activities involved in mining and be able to quantify its effects socially, economically and environmentally. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) which is associated with developing countries and mainly explain to mean an informal activity within the mining industry, has become a very important economic contributor to many developing countries worldwide. The definition of ASM is a very contested one, due to the complex nature of its activities. According, to Hentschel, Hruschka and Priester, “artisanal and small-scale mining refers to mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanization, often in the informal (illegal) sector of the market (2003, p. 5).

The Minamata Convention on Mercury explains that Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a “gold mining conducted by individual miners or small enterprises with limited capital investment and production (Eriksen & Perrez, 2014). Whereas the International Labor organization describes it activities as labor intensive, with mechanization being at a low level and basic (ILO, 1999). The World Bank in their view, emphasize the economic and social effects of ASM as a “largely poverty-driven activity, typically practiced in the poorest and most remote rural areas of a country by a largely itinerant, poorly educated populace with little other employment alternatives (World Bank, 2013). Obviously, from the above definitions ASM can be understood to be, not formalize work activity, with limited use of mechanical tools, is labor-intensive, with capital and productivity, engages in deposit exploitation, and have limited access to land and markets (Hentschel, Hruschka & Priester, 2003; MMSD Project, 2013); which make ASM unsustainable. These characteristics illustrate the many sustainability issues existing in ASM, which create the cycle of poverty that many artisanal miners face in the sector. A World Bank report indicates that ASM occurs in approximately 80 countries worldwide; where there are approximately 100 million artisanal miners globally and their families depending on artisanal mining compared to about 7 million people worldwide in industrial mining. ASM production supply accounts for 80% of global sapphire, 20% of gold mining and up to 20% of diamond mining (World Bank, 2008).

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In spite of the informal nature, the lack of technical know-how and the often-unregulated nature of ASM activities, resulting in low productivity and high environmental distraction; the sector represents an alternative livelihood for many rural communities facing lack of job opportunities. Environmental impacts of ASM activities are also linked to clearing and cutting forests, river dredging, or use of toxic chemicals. In this report, I discuss some of the commonly share sustainability issues concerning ASM in developing countries around the world. Drawing from specific example in Ghana (West Africa), I will show some of the sustainability issues affecting artisanal miners in the country and how the unsustainability of ASM creates a cycle of poverty livelihood. My view is that, to help sustain the livelihood of Artisanal miners specifically in Ghana and other ‘developing’ countries, the major stakeholders in the formal mining industry (in this case Governments and large mining companies) should take up the responsibility of providing the necessary help to Artisanal Miners in order to avert any social, economic and environmental risk to the mining sector as a whole. In the following report, I will discuss the issue of Artisanal mining in Ghana, looking its impacts from the perspective of the three pillars of sustainability. And finally, conclude by suggesting alternative sustainable livelihood approaches for ASM and the role that major stakeholders can play. The Case of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining in Ghana Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) popular known in Ghana as ‘galamsey’, has been in existence since pre-colonial times and the number of artisanal miners today have increase in their tens of thousands. It is a very important avenue for income generation to some rural youth and women in Ghana facing lack of opportunities in other industries. Notwithstanding, galamsey serving as an alternative, it is not without its own problems. In recent times, ASM has increased due in part to the vast arrival of ‘illegal foreign miners’ and in some instances the expansion of large-scale gold mining activities. The activities of the two mentioned above have attracted small-scale miners to their tailing dams, concessions, and downstream regions. Also, the difficult national economy is fueling the drive for people to venture into ASM, many without a license to operate.

It must be understood that not all ASM in Ghana is illegal. In actual fact, the country was the first sub-Saharan African country to pass legislation regulating ASM back in 1989 (Hilson & Potter, 2003). There is currently, the Minerals and Mining Act of 2006 a regulatory instrument, containing provisions for ASM processes; including registration, permits, health and safety, and environmental management. In spite of this, the processes (required for registration and licensing) are burdensome and consume lots of time, creating disincentives for the miners to formalize their operations. So, with all the legal instruments, the majority of the ASM sector remains illegal making their operation unregulated and, in that case, environmentally and economically unsustainable. The cause and the effects are now obvious. Mercury commonly uses in extracting the gold from the ore by the Artisanal miners, has been identified to be highly toxic pollutant in the Pra River, one of the largest rivers in the Eastern region of Ghana. Other cancer-causing chemicals have also been found in the river which ultimately poisons the fishes and the source of drinking water for local people within the catchment area. Environmental and Health authorities continue to warn against the serious health and environmental impacts of the activities of ASM. So, the question one would ask is; if all the evidence of the causes and the effects are clear to be seen, then why is it that there hasn’t been a solution yet? Some scholars and technical experts have come out with some few reasons and these are (Hilson & Potter, 2003): Transboundary Issue: There is a view that the countries decentralized governance structure makes it extra challenging to tackle the transboundary nature of river pollution.

The administrative board in charge of the river basin consists of assemblies at three different administrative levels (Metropolitan, Municipal, and District) plus a range of other stakeholders. And because the river covers 41 administrative districts crossing into 4 regions, it makes the administrative body ineffective and unmanageable. In addition, the Board needs to also coordinate their activities with the mining sector (large and small-scale operators) and with regulators in other sectors (land and natural resources, environment, and national security); making the joint effort needed very difficult to realize. Limited Enforcement: The issue of effective enforcement of current regulations on ASM activities has been identified to be largely insufficient. A task force was established to address the issue some years back has failed many for the inability to cause true change. Some experts have argued the lack of political will amongst government officials and traditional authorities, and not their capacity is what makes illegal mining to flourish. Poor Investment: Also, due to the lack of investment in non-extractive sectors, many rural poor seek other alternative and more dangerous sources of income by engaging in illegal mining activities. Combined with the toxic pollution in the river Pra, farmers and fishermen are driven to seek other means of livelihood in order to feed their families. Without support for the traditional economic sectors such as agriculture, communities will continue to join the ‘illegal activities’ of those upstream, in search of gold.


The role of major Stakeholders: Governments and Large Mining Companies As the introduction of this report has shown, the mining industry has it is known today was born out of the informal mining sector. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that ASM activities today cannot be part of the formalize mining sector. Canada, the US, Australia, others formalized their artisanal gold mining sectors through provision of services such as transportation, communication, technical services, access to markets, and in particular capitalization. Today, many artisanal miners in developing countries continue to face a lot of sustainability issues that threaten their livelihood and the future of their generations. ASM is estimated to be the largest source of global mercury pollution in the world, projected as accounting for more than a third of global anthropogenic emissions(Wotruba, Hentschel, Livan, Hruschka, & Priester, 1998). In addition to this, ASGM has also resulted in other negative environmental impacts such as deforestation and biodiversity loss and it is often associated with child labor, other human rights violations and a driver for reduced environmental security, sometimes being linked to armed conflicts over access to mineral reserves. However, ASM’s important role as a source of livelihood to millions of rural poor communities makes it a critical solution to understanding the bigger picture of poverty reduction and contributed to the socioeconomic development program. The livelihood of the miners involved in ASM continues to be affected by structural and institutional systems that create and reproduce the cycle of poverty.

Therefore, to help sustain the livelihood of Artisanal miners, major stakeholders in the formal mining industry (government and big mining firms) should take up the responsibility of providing the necessary help to artisanal miners in order to avert any social, economic and environmental risk to the mining sector as a whole. So rather than focusing on stamping out ASM altogether the focus should be on bring miners into the formal economy. The responsibility of governments should rather be to create a platform of engagement between small-scale miners and large-scale miners to work together. This would encourage ethical practices and minimize negative environmental and social impacts. A favorable environment to co-exist with artisanal miners by large-scale mining companies, should be their focus by providing supporting systems such as; vocational training and skills development for small-scale miners, provide part-time employment when necessary and making mineral market informational and geological data accessible to ASM for improving productivity. Vocational training will allow more miners to create an alternative sustainable career path for themselves. And access to market information and geological data would also help artisanal miners to become more profitable and minimize any environmental impact (World Bank & Icmm, 2009). In this way, the consensus will be to not only see just the problems of ASM but to start contributing to professionalizing the sector and to help make it sustainable.

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Sustainability in Artisanal Mining: The role of major Stakeholders. (2019, May 19). Retrieved from