Rising mineral prices and the struggle to earn a living from agriculture have led to explosive growth in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), according to a new report from the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development.
An estimated 40.5 million people were directly engaged in ASM in 2017, up from 30 million in 2014, 13 million in 1999 and 6 million in 1993, the study found. That compares with only 7 million people working in industrial mining in 2013.
Around 150 million people across 80 countries in the global south currently depend on ASM for their livelihoods, the study found.
Despite its low productivity, ASM’s share of global mineral production is also rising. About 20 per cent of global gold supply is produced by artisanal and small-scale operators. ASM is also a major source of minerals indispensable for manufacturing popular electronic products like laptops and phones. For example, 26 per cent of global tantalum production and 25 per cent of tin come from ASM.
“For many people in the world’s poorest countries, ASM 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. “This report will help our members support the sector’s potential to enhance livelihoods and spur economic development while managing persistent challenges such as improving health and safety and reducing the sector’s environmental footprint.”
As ASM relies on a mostly unskilled workforce using rudimentary tools and techniques, its environmental and health and safety practices tend to be very poor. In many countries, 70 to 80 per cent of small-scale miners are informal. Informality underpins the sector’s poor performance and traps the majority of miners and communities in cycles of poverty and exclusion from legal protection and support.