In June, Levin Sources launched a research effort into the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) communities in Mozambique, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the DRC, as part of a global data collection exercise on the impacts of COVID-19 in ASM communities. The research is funded by the World Bank’s Extractives Global Programmatic Support Multi-Donor Trust Fund and coordinated through the Delve COVID-19 Impact Reporting initiative, which covers 23 different countries.
We are now in the fifth and final data collection period, having completed four rounds of interviews with respondents over the past eight weeks. Since the start of June, we have conducted a total of 367 mine site interviews across the four countries, with results published on the Delve platform. We have also held key stakeholder interviews to provide further insights on how COVID-19 has affected the ASM sector in each country, in order to contextualise and better interpret the data collected from the mine site interviews.
This blog, the second in our series on the Delve COVID-19 Impact Reporting, provides a brief overview of Levin Sources’ main findings from the data collection so far. Over the next few weeks, we will be focusing in on some of the main themes presented by the data, going deeper into how the impacts of COVID-19 have manifested in each country context.
COVID-19 has had significant impacts on ASM communities. With official data often scarce and unreliable around the world, and with economic shocks in their early stages in many places, the full extent of these impacts will become clear only over time. The Delve COVID-19 Impact data collection has, however, gone some way towards starting to identify trends in how ASM communities have been affected so far, and how these impacts have evolved in such a rapidly changing global context. The insights will help to inform immediate emergency response measures and longer-term recovery efforts. Our initial findings provide an overview of the data collected by Levin Sources in Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
- Awareness about COVID-19 and how to prevent it has been high from the beginning of the study amongst respondents in all three countries, despite perceived case numbers remaining very low. The majority of respondents report feeling ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ informed about COVID-19, while reported confirmed or suspected cases around mine sites remain very few. This awareness is likely to be due in part to the government-imposed restrictions on movement experienced across all three countries, as well as deliberate government messaging. Anecdotal evidence collected suggests that ASM and other predominantly rural communities currently see COVID-19 as an urban problem, and therefore do not perceive the risk of contracting COVID-19 to be high.
- The ASM workforce has drastically reduced in all three contexts, with the majority of respondents reporting that they are working less than before COVID. This is due mainly to government restrictions on movement and access to mine sites, as well as subsequent restrictions imposed by mine site owners. In Uganda, a drop in levels of financing available to respondents has also become an increasingly important factor in maintaining the reduced workforce over time. Our data in Uganda and Zimbabwe shows women to be disproportionately affected by job losses in the ASM sector, with many respondents reporting that women were the first to lose their jobs in the case of workforce reductions, given that their labour is often perceived as peripheral to mining operations. Despite a smaller workforce overall, Development Minerals respondents in Uganda reported an increase in the number of women in the workforce, due to increased financial pressure on households and the low availability of work elsewhere.
- As well as a reduced workforce, respondents in Uganda and Zimbabwe have seen increased difficulty in selling their product. In Uganda, movement restrictions to and from Kampala posed a significant challenge to the gold trade. Similarly, Ugandan producers of stone aggregate and sand have seen a radical drop in demand due to a slowdown of the local construction sector in urban centres, previously their biggest clients. In Zimbabwe, despite payment terms and prices from Fidelity Printers & Refiners (FPR), the state’s gold-buying arm, becoming more favourable than before the pandemic, movement restrictions, increased security concerns and delayed payments by FPR have significantly impacted the flow of gold. Respondents in Mozambique initially reported increased ease in selling their product, although it has become more difficult over time with increased price volatility and a sustained drop in production.
- Food insecurity has increased significantly for respondents in Uganda and Zimbabwe, and to a lesser extent in Mozambique. In both Uganda and Zimbabwe, reported food insecurity has been increasing over time. In Zimbabwe, the percentage of respondents who reported members of their household skipping meals rose from 38% in the 1st data collection period to 67% in the 3rd. In Uganda the measure doubled in the same period (78% in the 3rd period compared to 38% in the 1st). Sustained reductions in household income were cited as the primary cause of this increase, as well as food price inflation. In Uganda in particular, respondents with access to land for farming reported lower levels of food insecurity than those who did not. In Mozambique, the majority of respondents reported no change in the availability of food. For those who did, however, food price inflation was cited as the primary cause of increased food insecurity.
- The reported level of service provision to respondents has so far been relatively low across all three countries, with only a minority of respondents reporting that they have received some kind of service in relation to COVID-19. Of those who did receive services the majority were government-provided, with awareness-raising about COVID-19 and how to prevent it being the most commonly reported, followed by the provision of food and in some cases masks. This is perhaps unsurprising given that ASM communities are often remote and difficult to access even in normal times, and that government support to the sector is often limited.
However, despite low reported levels of COVID-19 cases in mining areas, ASM communities have suffered significant indirect impacts.
Conclusions and looking forward
Our data shows that COVID-19 and its associated restrictions on movement, mine site access and trade have had significant direct and indirect impacts on ASM communities. Current trends show increases in food insecurity and a sustained reduction in incomes for the majority of ASM households. Addressing these and other impacts will be key in ensuring strong post-COVID recovery in ASM producer countries.
Our data shows that awareness-raising on COVID-19 and how to prevent it has been quick and efficient, rapidly reaching the vast majority of respondents across all geographies of our study as well as the additional 19 participating countries. The rate of awareness-raising, received by most respondents in the form of government messaging, speaks to the quick response of many ASM-producer country governments. However, policy and programmatic responses to the pandemic must now go further. Our data so far shows a number of areas in which ASM actors see their greatest need for support, including access to tools, equipment and the education and resources to implement safer mining practices, increased access to market and immediate support in the form of food relief. Given the vulnerability of the ASM community to COVID-related shocks, these needs are at risk of becoming critical. Thoughtful and targeted programming and policy is needed to ensure that these needs are met in ways that promote the long-term sustainability of the ASM sector in each specific country context.
Our previous blog on programming in the COVID-19 era explored the need for evidence-based and context-specific post-COVID programming as an opportunity for sustainably tackling long-term sectoral issues. Subsequent blogs in this series, in collaboration with our researchers, will apply these theories to our findings in each country, taking a closer look at the types of programmatic interventions that are needed going forward.