Who better than artisanal and small-scale miners to talk about the future of their own sector? In December 2022, the World Bank gathered miners, practitioners who work directly with mining communities and international experts in Nairobi for a conference about ASM after the COVID-19 pandemic.
As miners from Latin America, Africa and South-east Asia contributed their experiences, it became evident that they share many challenges such as gender-based violence (GBV), lack of access to finance, land and markets, guaranteeing health and safety for miners, as well as combating prevalent narratives about the sector.
Below we share 10 takeaways, which Levin Sources will keep integrating into its ASM advisory. We invite and encourage governments, donors and large-scale mining companies to incorporate them into their engagement with ASM in 2023.
1/ Don’t disregard the economic dimension of ASM. ASM miners and groups are ultimately enterprises that seek to gain an income from their work. Miners won’t improve their ways of working if the outcome doesn't benefit them financially at least as much as their existing practices. Indeed, while social and environmental dimensions are key to formalising ASM, the economic one is no less important. The commercial sustainability of ASM operations is needed to support the improvement and/or mitigation of social and economic impacts and is key to miners’ livelihoods.
This aspect was also addressed as part of our work in Mozambique with clay ASM cooperatives. It became clear that miners needed to earn a better income to guarantee investment in good mining practices and formalisation.
2/ Programmes need to move beyond the standard legalistic concept of “formalisation” to address the broader needs of miners. Alternative terms could include: integration and inclusiveness of ASM, or professionalisation. Participants described formalisation more broadly: as a three-dimensions process: legal, market, and social. The market component is essential to make formalisation real and sustainable. Three-dimensional formalisation leads to access to finance, equipment and markets and the potential for better social outcomes. To improve success here, government needs to be better integrated into private sector conversations and efforts on market access.
3/ Access to finance remains a priority. In the 2022 Delve survey on COVID-19 impacts on the ASM sector, 69% of respondents named access to finance as the support they needed to recover from COVID-19-related impacts. This was likely true before 2020 but got exacerbated by the pandemic’s economic consequences on ASM.
4/ ASM miners aren’t necessarily interested in alternative livelihoods. They want to earn their income from mining as they know there is potential for decent earnings. For many, mining is already an alternative to a sector like agriculture which is at risk because of climate change and often low-paid. However, minerals are a finite resource which means it is important ASM communities have other economic opportunities beyond mining in the medium to long term.
5/ Value addition can increase the resilience of supply chains and of the value retained by producers. Pursuing processing and transforming minerals directly in producing countries, for example in the Great Lakes Region for critical minerals, could have positive impacts on conflict as these initiatives require regional cooperation. However, value-addition initiatives will work better if all members of the community, including women, are integrated into their planning and delivery.
6/ Interest in critical minerals is going to keep increasing and more attention will be given to the ASM sector by sourcing countries. This comes with clear governance risks as countries are rushing to become the first producers in supply chains prone to geopolitical challenges. This could shift conflict risks to critical raw materials as their value in the market increases. To address this, policymakers need to incentivise safeguards at the mining level and to put policies in place which can attract responsible investment.
To make the most out of the demand for critical minerals, producing countries need to develop their smelting capacity, as countries with smelting capacity currently retain significant and unbalanced control over the supply chains.
To avoid perpetuating the systemic gender inequalities that exist in ASM, it is important to recognise the need to invest in women-led initiatives as critical minerals boom.
7/ The narrative about ASM needs to change. Yes, the sector has challenges however, that doesn’t make it “irresponsible”. We need to move beyond the amalgam between the negative assumptions around the lack of responsibility by mining and structural / ecosystem challenges in the sector (conflict, child labour, challenges to obtain mining rights, etc.) which can be tackled.
8/Women's economic empowerment is key to addressing GBV. GBV and SGBV are rooted in unbalanced power dynamics, including when women are economically dependent and abused. Across the world, GBV has different aspects: sexual, psychological, economic, cultural, etc.
In Nigeria, the Women’s Right to Education Program launched and promoted the app ConstantSee which helps women report GBV and provides a tool for monitoring them. It showed that GBV increased during COVID-19. Today, the Minister of Women’s Affairs displays a dashboard showing all the reports in her office. It has helped ensure awareness raising and action on the reported cases.
Women need to have access to better-paying roles. There can be as many if not more women than men working on ASM sites. Yet one of the female miners at the conference described how men take the higher paying roles such as digging and going underground, while women do the poorly paid task of breaking the rocks which are then sold. This woman had elected to go into mining driven by her location and the opportunity it offered for an income and saw the inherent imbalance as unfair.
9/ The business case for health and safety should be clear when engaging miners, although it is important to recognise how difficult it is in practice to make ASM completely safe.
On the health front, silicosis is often overlooked as a risk, although it is becoming a public health emergency. Tuberculosis prevention efforts should also look more at the impacts of silicosis.
10/ ASM access to mining land and mineral resources isn’t equitable (yet). Mining laws and regulation or their application rarely support ASM legally obtaining mining permits and rights. Defining coexistence frameworks for ASM-LSM is important to guarantee access to land for ASM.
Access to actual mine sites, especially for women as there are still places where cultural beliefs and traditions do not allow for women to be at the mine site or to dig.
It was fascinating to get this insight directly from those affected by the issues. It reaffirmed a lot of what Levin Sources already understands and practices from its long history of working directly with ASM miners and mining organisations. From formalisation to gender equality, the panels sent strong and clear messages to all organisations involved in supporting the ASM sector. It reminds us that we need to go back to our standards, practices and policies and check that they are fully in line with what the miners want and need – after all, it’s them who feel the impact on a daily basis.