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ASM programming in the COVID-19 era

ASM programming in the COVID-19 era

May 27, 2020, by Adam Rolfe and Angela Jorns


Since our latest COVID-19 blog, which made the case for the continued prioritisation of the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sector to mitigate the human impacts of the crisis in ASM host nations, there have been two important declarations by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (English, French) and over 70 civil society organisations (CSOs). They have called upon governments, private sector actors, CSOs and others to protect and further gains made in relation to responsible mineral supply chains, and to engage with and support responsible ASM producers during this time.

Levin Sources strongly supports these statements. In this blog we consider practical programming options to put them into action, based on emerging initiatives, some of which we are involved with. These options should be of practical value to stakeholders looking to implement their own initiatives in the sector. They are underpinned by core programming principles to which we adhere and promote at Levin Sources. Programme design and implementation must be: 1) Evidence-based and consultative 2) Sustainable, contributing to long-term sectoral reform, whilst generating more immediate benefits.

Data, data, data: Response planning must understand the needs of intended beneficiaries to ensure relevant and effective programming now and in the future

Driven by the compelling case to act, emergency response programming has in the past been criticised for assuming the problem and its solution, without data consultation or analysis. As a result, support efforts can be misplaced or poorly implemented, which can reduce intended benefits or even lead to damaging unintended consequences. COVID-19 responses cannot afford to make these mistakes. In the rush to mobilise, programmes and initiatives should adhere to the good practice principles of evidenced-based decision making.

There is a growing body of evidence revealing how the pandemic is affecting ASM communities and associated value chains, including country specific analyses and open source tools to support response efforts. Repositories include the DELVE database, the Artisanal Gold Council COVID-19 Portal, the PlanetGold COVID-19 platform and our own coronavirus analysis. From this month, DELVE/the World Bank are leading a global harmonised data collection exercise on coronavirus impacts. It will provide periodic, open source data and analysis from around globe. Levin Sources will contribute to the initiative and welcomes stakeholders to get in touch to explore the findings (to be published on the DELVE platform from early June).

There is a lot of good open source data already available which can be used to inform programmatic decisions. Organisations looking to launch or redefine programmes related to the ASM sector should join these platforms; they will not only save you time and give rise to new ideas, but can help avoid duplication of effort and inefficient use of resources that can otherwise be channelled into direct action.

Additional data collection, such as rapid needs assessments and the collection of baseline data, should be conducted in a way that is sensitive to disease prevention efforts, prioritising remote information gathering where possible and enacting social distancing where this is not. Working closely with local researchers and utilising digital data collection tools may contribute to enhanced and more efficient programme delivery and impact monitoring that outlives the impacts of the present crisis. We continue to explore innovations in this area and apply them to our own programmes.

Delivering emergency response programmes in a way that sustainably tackles long-term sectoral issues

A good emergency response tries to cover the most urgent and critical needs while ensuring a ‘do no harm’ approach; it should not undermine existing systems, capacities and networks within society or the government that would be crucial to address the underlying causes of the emergency. Humanitarian and development professionals also speak of a ‘nexus’, where ideally emergency responses not only do no harm, but enable entry points for longer-term change to address these root causes.

COVID-19 emergency programming in ASM communities should serve as an entry point to support and potentially expedite the longer-term formalisation process of the ASM sector, being mindful of not undermining this inadvertently.

Example One: Emergency health and WASH programming

Let’s take the example of an emergency intervention focusing on health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) aspects in ASM communities. Such emergency needs should be addressed through mechanisms that can continue to function beyond the emergency, and that can be mobilised to gradually tackle other health, safety and hygiene challenges in ASM communities, as well as additional human rights or governance issues in the longer term.

First and foremost, this means working through and with government authorities (local and national), as well as traditional leadership (chiefs, religious leaders, landowners). Working with these groups to deliver the health and WASH response can improve the means of dialogue with the ASM sector and communities, establishing common ground between these actors and providing a joint experience of meaningful cooperation. Such an approach can help avoid or minimise traditional conflicts which may exist between these groups. In addition, inter-ministerial cooperation – often lacking but crucial to ASM formalisation – can be fostered from the beginning. For example, elaborating a joint response by the Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of Health. This could be the first step to establishing government-led extension services to ASM communities. These services would be an incentive in a formalisation process and help build trust between government representatives and ASM communities.

Secondly, collaborating with other existing organisational structures and counter parts at the level of the ASM community, the mine site and along the supply chain is key. Far from being anarchic or chaotic, mine sites and ASM supply chains are often well organised, despite operating in the informal sphere. There may be mine site managers ‘orchestrating’ production, landowners and family members controlling access to a site, or associations, civil society groups or committees of certain professions or social groups (traders, transporters, women, youth, etc) operating as collectives or teams. Emergency interventions can build upon such structures to elaborate mine site-level COVID-19 response plans in a participatory and collaborative manner, enabling safe mining and trading during the pandemic.

This means ‘handing over the stick’ to local actors while proactively accompanying and facilitating the process: designing response plans that are adapted to the mine site context and incorporating preventative and mitigation measures into mining processes and workplaces. This helps to strengthen organisational structures at the mine site and community level, another key aspect in a formalisation process. Through these structures, awareness-raising and sensitisation activities can be channelled, as well as interventions for behavioural change, training, and capacity building. While at first these may be COVID-19 related, focusing on basic hygiene measures or social distancing, such interventions can provide an entry point to tackle other health and safety issues on mine sites in the future through the same structures. Similarly, this can be done at the level of traders and mine site service providers, who are often the most mobile actors, migrating between mine sites and other locations. They may be vectors for the disease, but they could also serve as carriers and ‘amplifiers’ for awareness raising, encouraging the uptake of preventative measures at mine sites, processing centres and trading points. Including these actors and their organisations in elaborating and implementing COVID-19 response measures will also help to build more trust and transparency in supply chains.

Lastly, COVID-19 emergency responses at ASM sites and within communities need to enable access to critical services, goods and infrastructure without undermining existing service delivery and longer-term planning by the state, the private sector, humanitarian agencies, or by self-organised collaborative community-based approaches. Interventions aiming to enable access to integral services and goods such as clean water, soap, handwashing stations, masks, gloves, contactless thermometers, and so forth, need to ensure they do not duplicate nor undermine existing channels of service provision. Interventions should not be short-term ‘hand outs’ of goods but geared towards supporting longer term service delivery to ASM communities. Similarly, responses should take account of potential unintended consequences that may undermine wider strategic priorities. If we take an arid context for example, drilling bore holes may seem the most sustainable – and possibly the most cost-effective - way of delivering permanent access to water for hygiene and sanitation purposes. However, doing so could decentralise processing in the supply chain, which could undo formalisation (often conducted successfully through centralised processing systems). Therefore, tackling the issue requires analysis of existing channels and actors involved in the provision of goods and services to ASM communities; collaborative and strengthening approaches, rather than interventions that undermine them. In this area, there may also be space for more interlinked livelihood and local content-based approaches, such as supporting groups of women and youth to produce locally made soap, weld handwashing stations or sew masks, gloves, or other PPE.

Example Two: Supporting responsible gold trade

Another example are interventions aiming to support or revive responsible buying and selling of minerals from ASM communities and within the upstream segments of the supply chain. The COVID-19 crisis and the measures taken to prevent the spread of the disease have led to the collapse of mineral prices for ASM producers, due to movement and transport restrictions that also effect traders. This has been most notable in gold supply chains, despite international gold prices remaining high, and thus causing concern over illicit actors entering and/or consolidating their control of the market and benefitting from the trade.

Interventions to revive upstream trade links may primarily aim to provide emergency livelihoods assistance to ASM communities by ensuring that they can still earn a living from their mineral production. At the same time, such interventions could serve as an entry point for enhanced formalisation if they are designed in a way that helps increase transparency and responsible trading and sourcing practices upstream.

In this sense, facilitating contacts and engagement between international gold markets and upstream traders or aggregators could be a first step in enabling liquidity and income to flow back into upstream chains and communities. While market forces will eventually find a way to (re-)establish such links, the COVID-19 crisis provides a window of opportunity for interventions to enhance upstream actors’ knowledge and capacity around due diligence requirements and responsible sourcing. This would get such actors ‘ready’ for responsible downstream markets, which in turn are enabled to engage with such upstream chains and source from them if these requirements are fulfilled.

Interventions should therefore not only aim to help sell the gold from ASM producers, but also engage with traders, aggregators, and other actors in the upstream chain to train them on key due diligence requirements and practices. In addition, responses could also engage with government actors responsible for governing the trade and export of minerals (including existing government-led mineral buying schemes) to address some of the structural barriers to formal and responsible upstream trading, such as taxation levels and informal taxation and/or extortion along the supply chain, restricting the ability of informal trade networks to pay better prices.

As with example one, COVID-19 is driving the acute need for these interventions on humanitarian grounds. Nevertheless, this challenging context provides an entry point for initiatives to drive forward positive structural changes that will lay the foundations for sectoral recovery in the longer-term.


This blog has explored the importance of well thought out programming in response to COVID-19, providing some concrete examples of how this might be achieved in practice. Future blogs in this series will bring you updates and insights from our own work to combat the impact of COVID-19 on ASM communities and responsible sourcing, which are due to get underway imminently.

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