What Is Artisanal Mining?
Artisanal mining is an informal sector comprised of simple forms of exploration, extraction, processing, and transportation. It is done in around 80 countries worldwide, involving over 100 million artisanal miners, compared to 7 million engaged in industrial mining.
Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is widespread in Africa, Central and South America, Asia, and Oceania. As the process entails un-mechanized operations, productivity is generally low. However, it is an essential source of livelihood and income for the poverty-hit local population.
Different types of minerals extracted through artisanal mining are gold, wolframite, gemstones, diamonds, cobalt, cassiterite, and coal. In fact, artisanal and small-scale mining production supply accounts for 80 percent of global sapphire and 20 percent each of gold and diamond mining.
A lack of other job prospects, climate change, political conflict, and reduced opportunities in the agriculture sector are some of the reasons that have led to the increase in the number of people depending on ASM activities over the past decade.
Although artisanal mining contributes a significant portion of the world’s gemstones and minerals, the limited availability of data has made it tough to understand the true impact of their labor. Artisanal mining seems to be the only sector where both policymakers and practitioners need better access to accurate, reliable, and comprehensive insights.
The scarcity of proper data affects the aim to make this sector understandable to the general audience. To bridge this gap, the World Bank and non-profit organization Pact launched the global platform Delve in September 2019 to collect data on the artisanal and small-scale mining sector. The Delve database provides information through region, country, mineral, and thematic dashboards. To contribute information and resources to the database and library, you have to create a profile for yourself in the Delve directory.
Artisanal mining involves men and women working individually, as well as in family groups. Globally, around 30 percent of artisanal miners are women, in contrast to 10 percent in the large-scale mining sector. Though the tasks related to mining — digging, crushing ore, and other extraction tasks — are exhausting and dangerous, still, women continue to work even while pregnant and nursing young children since it is the primary source of livelihood for millions of them.
Artisanal mining has a number of social, environmental, and economic challenges. Also, the absence of a legal framework to monitor the ongoing activities and a lack of capacity to implement the existing rules are responsible for artisanal mining being poorly regulated by local authorities.
Artisanal mining is prone to forced labor, takeover by criminal gangs using violence, and deforestation. These have resulted in the industry often being labeled the dark side of mining and approached with skepticism.
This outlook is heightened by the isolated nature of their sites. Artisanal mining is increasingly being practiced in remote areas throughout sub-Sahara Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. This isolation has increased the fear of maintaining good practices in mining sites. Reports of child labor and unsafe working conditions in areas like the cobalt-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo have only made ASM a typical reflection of the sinister facet of mining.
Risks Associated with Artisanal Mining
Being a small-scale operations business, artisanal mining is typically carried out beyond normal law and, at the same time, fails to comply with any industry standards. This entails significant risks to miners, as well as the communities and country in which they work.
The following described are some perils when it comes to artisanal mining.
Artisanal miners are less likely to be using adequate safety gear, which can result in personal injury to the miner. Being outside the purview of law, the tools employed by them could also be outdated or defective. Such circumstances resulted in dozens of death at a copper mine in Congo in 2019 after the mine collapsed, causing rocks to fall on the miners present during the mishap. As the mines where artisanal miners work are built without government regulation, attention is paid only on the wealth of minerals available with no regard for the navigation capabilities of the surrounding areas to aid in rescue efforts in case of any untoward occurrence.
Damage to Infrastructure
Since artisanal mining is a small-scale activity, they don’t explore and construct mines. The miners generally move into mines that have been closed or left unused by larger companies. The current lack of working standards and equipment end up affecting the mines handled by them.
Damage to the Economy
Artisanal mining operations can deplete the available resources, thereby negatively affecting the country’s mining sector. Since the money made this way is outside the government’s purview, no tax is paid for them, which affects the country’s economy and makes it hard for licensed miners. There’s also a possibility that the artisanal miners might undersell their mined products compared to international corporations. The amount of minerals and metals artisanally mined is substantial, making the impact strong.
The artisanal mining sector is the largest source of human-caused mercury emissions. The industry releases an estimated 1,400 tonnes of mercury emissions every year – according to the Minamata Convention in 2011, which is 40 percent of the world’s total. Because of its easy availability and low cost, mercury is often used for extracting gold from ore. There are two methods of extracting gold from ore using mercury. While the first process helps to capture 30 percent of the gold from the ore, the other way involves the ore being burnt in mercury. This is usually done at the miner’s home, thereby exposing the miner and their family to the toxic fumes.
Forest conservation is also greatly affected by artisanal mining, as several mining operations occur around forests that are home to rich biodiversity. Some mining operations have also been reported from environmentally protected areas.
Since the digging of soil is a part of artisanal mining, erosion, water siltation, and soil degradation are issues plaguing rivers that are commonly exploited for the purpose of mining. The excavation of mines may also lead to the spread of harmful chemicals such as lead.
A Powerful Force in the Mining Industry
Despite these drawbacks, artisanal mining benefits the local population by providing them with employment, slowing urban immigration, increasing their purchase power, and stimulating local economic growth.
Normally, artisanal mining is seasonal and done in combination with farming; thus, it contributed to the diversification of rural livelihood. This, in a way, helps in building a resilient livelihood for rural households. It also provides an incentive for other subsidiary businesses to develop around the mining area. If artisanal mining is regulated, it can further improve the economic condition of the entire region.
Despite the presence of large-scale industrial mining companies, artisanal mining employs ten times as many people. These individuals lack enough education, making them ineligible to work in an industrial mining capacity.
Around 90 percent of the mineral produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo comes through artisanal mining operations. However, a majority of it is exported to neighboring areas to avoid having to pay taxes, thereby influencing the local economy.
Better governance, proper training to artisanal miners, and modern, cost-effective equipment can bridge the gap and reduce such adverse effects of artisanal mining, raising a country’s GDP significantly at the same time too.
Major developmental organizations, such as the World Bank, UN, and Global Environment Facility, recognize artisanal mining to have the potential to be a major force in rural development, thereby improving lives in sizeable rural areas.
The use of technology can better the livelihoods of artisanal miners. However, it will not be able to fix the problem. A multi-stakeholder approach consisting of the private sector, civil society, and public institutions related to artisanal mining issues can help develop a proper response that will fix the complex human rights, social, and environmental challenges faced by miners worldwide. Governments should recognize the highly productive nature of artisanal mining and provide incentives for them to become environmentally suitable and legal.
Organizations Working for Artisanal Mining
Pact Mines to Markets Program
Pact is a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of people challenged by poverty and marginalization. Pact’s Mines to Market program helps resource-dependent communities enrich their lives through a holistic and integrated approach. The program aims to make artisanal mining safer, formal, and more productive by bringing together the government, miners, and the industry as a whole. The program helps communities get lasting benefits by encouraging them to use natural resources more sustainably. Also, it is currently operational in over a dozen countries in Asia, Africa, and South America.
Alliance for Responsible Mining
Established in 2004, the Alliance for Responsible Mining is a leading expert in artisanal mining. The organization aims to change the ASM sector into an environmentally and socially responsible activity and, at the same time, improve the lives of miners, their families, and the communities. The organization has created voluntary standard systems to support production and trade and enable the creation of a reliable supply chain. The non-profit organization’s Fairmined certificate certifies gold and associated precious metals from artisanal mining businesses that meet the responsible practices of world-leading standards.
Artisanal Gold Council
The Artisanal Gold Council strives to enhance the health, environment, and opportunities of millions of people from over 80 countries who are involved in the artisanal gold mining sector. The not-for-profit aims to develop integrated and practical solutions that address the unique circumstances existing in different locations around the world by working directly with communities involved in artisanal and small-scale gold mining and local experts. To improve the sector worldwide, the organization uses its in-depth field knowledge to focus on some strategic areas, such as governance, improved practices, gender equality health, livelihood, environment, development, and market access. The council seeks to formalize the sector by shifting wealth to the poor from the rich.
Mobile Technology to Help Coal Miners
Mining production in America has risen since the last decade, as the industry aspired to reduce its dependence on key minerals, such as coal and rare-earth metals, in other countries. Mining is undoubtedly dangerous and comes with the risk of fires, explosions, higher concentrations of hazardous gases, and flooding.
Methane gas explosions occur in poorly-ventilated mines, as the gas builds up and bursts when it comes in the proximity of any heat source. Coal dust explosion, on the other hand, despite being less common, is more extensive. In fact, a methane gas explosion initiates coal dust eruptions, as the pressure of the methane blast causes coal dust to blow up in the air.
Once the coal dust bursts into flames, it consumes the available oxygen and continues to grow and generate toxic gases in large quantities. As a result, mining accidents have resulted in the death of thousands of miners worldwide.
Using mobile phones and developing apps for mobile tablets and smartphones can have far-reaching effects in the mining industry. Apps built especially for commercial and industrial users could promote worthwhile outcomes. Mobile mining apps need to gather critical information on worker safety, vehicle tracking, and technology and also brass-in/brass-out in a well-timed manner deep inside the earth.
Cell phone connectivity and Wi-Fi are usually unavailable in such places. So the apps must be able to work offline to help mining companies use them to increase employee efficiency by cutting down on the time spent on daily activities. Using the knowledge gathered from experienced workers, intelligent apps can leverage the information to assist inexperienced workers.
They can also lower any safety risk, provide instant access to critical information, and get rid of unforeseen data-entry mistakes. The near-omnipresence of mobile phones makes them a good option for mining companies, both large and small. Mobile apps can also help in non-technical activities by listing mining glossaries and daily updates. Benefits of using mobile technology for mining include:
- Reporting hazards: Rugged mobile devices can observe operating conditions and provide live monitoring of the working environment to assess the levels of hazardous materials and gases. Safe operations of mobile devices using better connectivity can thus reduce the number of deaths among mine workers.
- Uptime: By measuring the vibrating patterns of mining equipment, machine learning algorithms are able to predict when the machine would fail. Miners using rugged mobile devices accessing this data can, therefore, fix the failing equipment and enhance uptime.
- Receiving resource yield in real-time: Mobile technology can be used for sending and receiving crucial real-time intelligence on the site to dig. This data on the amount of ore present in each seam may be relayed to the workers based there to heighten productivity.
- Managing tasks: As mining workers are spread over different locations, a secure mobile device management platform can grant miners access to an enterprise management system to check out tasks efficiently. This eliminates paperwork and makes employees more focused on deliverables.
In instances of artisanal mining, mobile phones play a critical role. Miners can utilize mobile technology to gauge the current market price before selling their catch for the day. This way, they also grasp local and international rates to negotiate better with buyers and avoid underselling. Mobile tech can thus prove incredibly useful when it comes to improving the health and safety of such miners. Disseminating information through short message service (SMS) or voice may also help miners know about unpredictable mobile shafts and warn them on the potential dangers of chemically treating their produce. Information can even be broadcast about the health centers to visit in case of any untoward incident or emergency.
Helpful Mining Technology
5G has impressive coverage. Thick dust present in underground mines can obstruct the signals of infrared cameras and traditional video. But these have little consequence on 5G-based equipment. China’s coal mining industry embraced this new technology late last year when Yangquan Coal Industry Group, the country’s largest coal producer, managed to successfully deploy an underground 5G base station in one of its mines. The station underwent an upgrade to make it explosion-proof and capable of transmitting high-definition video in real-time. Under an agreement the mining company signed with China Mobile and Huawei, the 5G network would be used for coal mine communication, safety production, monitoring, and management.
5G’s large-scale connection and substantial bandwidth help transmit data of higher quality and increased stability using a higher number of sensors. Using 5G, a single device gets 100 monitoring points, which improves real-time monitoring and downhole safety.
Pocket Blast Guide Mobile App
Orica’s Pocket Blast Guide App was launched in 2012. The app provides blast calculation, product information, conversions, calculations, and other necessary data. Miners can perform complex blasting calculations within the app, thus saving time. Its offline capability ensures the app can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Also, it is compatible with both Android and iOS smartphones.
Designed by Australia-based MiPlan, MiiNT software converts the captured data into information that can be used to increase productivity and improve other important aspects of mining operations. MiDrill, MiDig, MiTime, MiBlast, and MiHaul, along with MiiNT, provide a comprehensive monitoring system for blasting and drilling, material logistics, excavations, equipment maintenance, and human resource.