A new report has revealed explosive growth in the number of artisanal and small-scale miners worldwide over the past two decades amid rising mineral prices and a general struggle in earning a living from agriculture.
The Intergovernmental Forum (IGF) on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development estimated a more than doubling in the number of artisanal and small-scale miners from six-million in 1993 to 13-million in 1999.
By 2017, this figure had grown to 40.5-million, a further significant surge on the 30-million reported in 2014. That compares with only seven-million people working in industrial mining in 2013.
The study found that artisanal and small-scale mining is generally recognised as a considerable source of revenue for millions of people in about 80 countries worldwide – mostly in the global south, namely sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Oceania, Central and South America – with some 150-million people currently depending on artisanal and small-scale mining for their livelihoods.
Further, despite its low productivity, it is believed that artisanal and small-scale mining contributed 15% to 20% of global nonfuel mineral production.
Up to 20% of the global gold supply is produced by the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, along with 80% of the global sapphire supply and 20% of global diamond supply.
In addition, the study found that 26% of global tantalum production and 25% of tin come from artisanal and small-scale miners.
“For many people in the world’s poorest countries, artisanal and small-scale mining is the only route out of poverty, or the sole way to boost meagre incomes when there are few job alternatives,” said IGF director Greg Radford.