The term “Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining” has been defined in several ways by different scholars. Most Scholars who have attempted to define the concept have their definitions characterized by the number of miners, the production capacity of a mine, the mechanization status and the capital investment value. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) has been acknowledged as a substantial source of income for millions of people throughout 80 countries worldwide by the World Gold Council in 2017. ASM takes place in several regions of the globe, mostly in the global south, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Oceania, Central and South America.
According to the African Mining Vision (AMV), between 15 and 20 per cent of the world’s non-fuel minerals, 18 per cent of Africa’s gold and almost all African gemstones (except diamonds) are produced by ASM, and the activity could greatly contribute to national and local African economies.
ASM as Source of livelihood
The World Bank in its Gender Dimensions of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining report says that some African countries, such as Ghana and Malawi, have more than 50% of women making up the artisanal and small-scale mining workforce. It is estimated that over 40 million people work in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) globally and an estimated 100-150 million people depend on it for their livelihood worldwide (Hilson et al, 2018). Fifty percent of the total number of ASM operators work on gold extraction accounting 90 per cent of total employment in gold mining (the rest of the10 percent is in large-scale gold mining).
Contribution of ASM to the Economy
Ghana’s gold mining sector is dominated by large-scale companies putting Ghana as one of the leading producer of gold in Africa and at the global level. The country was the worlds tenth top producer of Gold in the world in 2017. However large scale mining companies provide direct employment for only 10,503 and 100,000 people indirectly. (With many Expatriates)
The ASM sector in Ghana generates employment and contributes massively to local economic development. This makes it one of Ghana’s most important livelihood activities especially in rural areas. ASM directly employs an estimated one million people and provides support to approximately 4.5 million people who are mostly women and youth. For instance, the sector contributed 35 percent of Ghana’s total gold production in 2014 with almost 1.5 million ounces of gold.
Challenges in the ASM Sector
In spite of the contribution of the ASM sector, several stakeholders often tend to denigrate ASM because of its informal and high-risk nature, with significant health and safety risks as well as susceptibility to social conflict and human rights violations. The ASM sector has been associated with environmental degradation and pollution that threatens to the health of the miners (and their families) as well as surrounding communities (UNEP, 2013). Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) has also been identified as the largest single source of anthropogenic releases of mercury into the environment. Due to distance to health facilities, lack of familiarity with health care availability, or in some cases the illegal status tag, ASM participants are less likely to participate in the regular government health system.
The African Mining Vision admonishes countries to harness the potential of Artisanal and small scale mining to improve rural livelihood and integrate into the rural and national economy. Even though the small-scale mining sub-sector in Ghana is tainted with a number of constrains, production and employment levels as well as the number of licensed operators have increased considerably over the years. As at August 2018, 109 active Small Scale Mining operators had licenses to work. ASM should therefore be seen as a significant contributor of people’s livelihoods that has the potential to alleviate poverty and be a channel for sustainable development. Therefore, adequate technical, economic and organizational assistance such as professional health services should be provided to the operators to improve small-scale mining operations in Ghana. Policies and guidelines that aim at promoting high health and safety standards and identifying roles of all stakeholders should be conceived to make small-scale mining operations in Ghana viable and sustainable.
Finally, a ban on the sector should never be an option for us as a country in moving forward since all indicators have shown that the ban brought little or no significance to the sector.
By: Ali Tanti Robert
The writer is the Executive Director of Youth Alliance for Development, a youth development oriented NGO based in Obuasi and New Edubiase. He is also an Emerging Public Health Practitioner who has interest in the health seeking behaviour of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners.