- February 18, 2020
- Posted in LOCAL
In many parts of the world, artisanal or small-scale mining (ASM) activities are at least as important as large-scale mining activities, particularly in terms of the numbers of people employed. ASM can play a crucial role in poverty alleviation and rural development. Most of those involved are poor and mining represents the most promising, if not the only, income opportunity available.
By Canaan Joseph Saurombe
In Zimbabwe today ASM has become a poverty alleviation scheme to many. Following the droughts and high input costs in farming most communities have resorted to Artisanal mining (Chikorokoza). However, the sector is perhaps better known for its high environmental costs and poor health and safety record.
Many continue to view it as dirty, unprofitable and fundamentally unsustainable. Whether or not the sector is a net contributor to sustainable development, the fact remains that small-scale and artisanal mining activities will continue for at least as long as poverty makes them necessary. It is therefore essential to maximize the benefits brought and enabled by small-scale mining and to mitigate the costs.
Broadly speaking, artisanal and small-scale mining refers to mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanization, often in the informal (illegal) sector of the market.
The following criteria are most often used to define:
- production volume
- number of people per productive unit, intensity (volume) of capital employed, labour productivity
- size of mine claim
- quantity of reserves
- sales volume
- operational continuity
- operational reliability
- duration of the mining cycle)
The local definitions vary from country to country according to the macroeconomic situation, the geological framework, the mining history, and the legal conditions.
In Zimbabwe, the macroeconomic situation requires mineral production in order to generate foreign income. The geological framework supports that most mineral resources in Zimbabwe are more amenable to small scale mining than the conglomerate mining and the legal conditions have been putting a thrust towards formalization of the sector since last year.
EMR (2014) defines an artisanal miner as ‘a miner who carries out mining activities using approved tools and employs up to 50 people. These include government-registered groups or syndicates or co-operatives. In particular, artisanal miners engaged in alluvial mining are not permitted to use mechanized equipment or motor-powered equipment (excavators, dredges, James tables, generators, and earth-moving equipment such as front end loaders and bulldozers). Thus, the official distinction between artisanal miners and small-scale miners in Zimbabwe is based on the scale of operation and degree of mechanisation. The law expects both categories of miners to be registered. However, in reality, small-scale miners are generally registered whereas many artisanal miners operate illegally. If the distinction is based solely on whether or not one is registered, there would be a problem of classifying registered ‘small-scale’ miners who use ‘artisanal’ (un-mechanised) mining methods. At the local level, the ASM sector is subject to rural district councils act (chapter 29:13) that empowers the local council to impose a land development levy on any rural landowners including miners that fall within the council‘s jurisdiction. In addition, the miners need to have an environmental impact assessment (EIA) approved by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). Renewal of mining licenses is dependent on the miner’s reclamation of land degraded by their mining activities.
Nevertheless, ASM is characterized by a number of conditions:
- Lack of or limited use of mechanization, and a lot of physically demanding work
- Low level of occupational safety and health care
- Poor qualification of personnel at all levels of the operation
- Inefficiency in exploitation and processing of mineral production (low recovery value)
- The exploitation of marginal and/or very small deposits, which are not economically exploitable by mechanized mining
- Low level of productivity
- Low level of salaries and income
- Periodic operation by local peasants by season or according to the market price development
- Lack of social security
- Insufficient consideration of environmental issues
- Chronic lack of working and investment capital
A benchmark ASM support regime should ‘ensure that the ASM does not, in the long run, produce any harm to the communities but induces positive elements for poverty reduction and sustainable development’ (hentschel et al. 2002: 16). In order to achieve this, there’s a need to address ASM issues that are aforementioned. All these issues can be grouped into legislation, environmental, technical, marketing, financial, policy and value addition issues.
The only way issues can be addressed with diligence is through government-stakeholder collaboration as well as support through relevant Associations.
Mining Policy and legislation are influenced by the government but put in use by participants. A consistent policy regime is a prerequisite for a sustainable ASM sector which contributes to poverty alleviation and rural development. Good policies motivate players to produce, formalize, develop and engage in Community Social Responsibility (CSR). Policies can be enacted which subsidizes the cost for miners who engage in social responsibilities and rural development. For instance deduction in tax percentage to all cooperates or miners who join hands in observing CSR, such as, construction of roads, schools, donations, etc. An increase in mineral production within an area should equate to an increase in the area’s development and improvement of livelihood. Other ways to improve to favorable mining policy and legislation are:
- availability of demand-oriented services (technical, legal, socio-economic and environmental).
- incentives for formal (legal) ASM e.g. import duty exemptions, taxation relief to upcoming ASM companies, improved access to finance/ credit, and access to free markets.
- harmonization of government departments and other stakeholder institutions into the ASM sector policy administration and implementation. In Zimbabwe, this is particularly important where a multiplicity of agencies separately seek to collect fees from and regulate, ASM activities.
- a transparent and appropriate legal framework.
- strict monitoring of compliance with the legal framework and penalties against violations.
Technology, in general, is not being practicalised in the sector. Under normal circumstances, the small scale has to be the breeding ground of innovation and the digital revolution. Many ASM enterprises use basic tools for mining, ore handling, and mineral processing, leading to strenuous chores of low productivity. Appropriate ASM technological interventions can enhance the economic sustainability of such ventures without compromising on their environmental sustainability. Filling this technological gap is one way of transforming artisanal mining into vibrant small scale mining ventures. Similarly, it is possible to upscale from small-scale mining to medium-scale mining by upgrading the operational environment, including technology/ equipment which is basically showing good business ethics. The idea is to start small with the aim to grow big. Starting with hand tools is ideal but there comes a time when the need arises to upgrade both extraction and processing equipment in order to maintain or increase recovery. For instance, a miner can start well with hand tools only but a time comes when they have to go beyond 30m to maintain tonnage at the same time chemical processing will come to be of need to deal with sulphides, oxides and/ or other additives. Therefore, a good ASM miner has to be business-minded and prepare for the future before odds change.
Tenure and formalisation has always been a complex challenge in the Zimbabwean ASM sector. Many ASM activities are informal and some prefer to remain informal for a number of reasons:
- lack of incentives to legalise,
- Bureaucratic procedures and heavy fees to become and remain legal,
- lack of capacity of the government to enforce penalties, and
- Non-provision of benefits which should be associated with legalising activities.
A supportive ASM regime should encourage and incentivise legalization or formalisation of ASM. To this end, governments should develop objective, consistent, transparent and non-discriminatory regulatory mechanisms, which offer easy access to mining titles and legal production. An ordinary miner from the deepest corner of Zimbabwe might not find time and resources to visit a mining office in the city, where they are sometimes tossed from one office to another. Registration procedures should be made easy to follow and at least compiled in one office. The Government through the Ministry of Mines has to accept the efficiency of computerizing information and going paperless, countless times miners register their mines only to be approached by officials later with information that the same mine is under someone else’s tenure. This corrupt and misusing of office has been ongoing and most miners prefer to work on their mines without grabbing the attention of the mines and mining development officials. For us to have a good ASM system every miner deserves a chance to explore and to be respected over their land as long as they are following all the policies required of them to follow.
Technical support in ASM is vital yet it is missing in most ASM mines in Zimbabwe. According to Hentschel et al. (2002), most ASM problems are technical and require appropriate technical solutions implemented in an integral approach.
The technical solutions have to be commensurate with the economic potential of the target group and need to be accompanied by education and training, and be affordably replicable. There is a serious lack of knowledge in the ASM sector and valuable mineral is being lost to waste due to this problem. The mining process is very sensitive from exploration up to production, slight misinformation leads to a huge loss. Most ASM mines are losing precious minerals in processing plants because they don’t understand the importance of metallurgical test work and process selections. We can only have a productive and sustainable ASM sector if we employ the right people with the right skill sets. This shouldn’t be a problem especially in Zimbabwe where we have many young technical people who are energetic and highly skilled.
Social support Traditionally, support to the ASM sector has largely been technical and financial, and rarely social. Supporting the ASM sector through the provision of health and social insurance cover is likely to become an important yardstick against which to judge how fairly a country treats its ASM workforce. There’s need to carry out vigorous campaigns across mining and herding areas, raising awareness of the need for insurance cover among herders and ASM workers, and assisting them to obtain insurance cover on negotiated terms. This shows that a nation recognise the ASM sector not just benefiting from its production. Where there is social support, there is motivation and where there is motivation, there is production and good workmanship.
Environment, health, and safety are very important in any industry, whenever we talk about production it is important we also talk about the environmental impact caused and health or life affected. Small-scale mining generally has a greater environmental impact per unit output compared to large-scale mining. The environmental problems associated with ASM include mercury pollution, cyanide pollution, acid mine drainage, river siltation, erosion and deforestation, landscape destruction and cultural damage. Governments are expected to enforce legislation to protect the environment and the health of communities and miners, but legislation and enforcement alone are not enough. A realistically supportive ASM regime should couple enforcements with awareness campaigns about the risks of unsafe work practices, and to proffer safer alternatives compatible with local cultural, social and economic norms. In Zimbabwe, the cost of environmental compliance, administered via the environmental management agency (EMA), is beyond the reach of many ASM workers who are already burdened with a plethora of other licensing fees from several other agencies/ government departments.
Minerals marketing has always been a challenge, especially in the gemstones sector. Typical market problems in the ASM sector include lack of direct markets (going through intermediaries), stringent market regulations and illicit trading (largely due to poor government policies). Decentralisation of markets helps curb illicit dealings by cutting off unnecessary exploitative intermediaries, who are the main culprits in smuggling, while at the same time ensuring that miners get higher profits for their produce. Profit margins can also be increased by assisting the ASM sector to establish local processing industries that add value to mining products. A benchmark ASM support regime promotes fair trade initiatives that give miners the opportunity of trading their produce under the best selling terms and conditions.
In every jurisdiction, the government sets laws and regulations to govern the way things are done. It’s through partnerships and associations that people respond to set laws in a way to try and relate them to practical tasks. All the above-stated frameworks can be well implemented to support a productive and sustainable small scale-ASM sector. This is the reason why we form Associations like Core Miners Association (CMA) to exhibit a standard operation of a proper small scale mine. It takes proper planning, resource allocation, organizing and controlling to produce efficiently and effectively in the mining sector.
Canaan Joesph Saurombe is the founding chairperson of Core Miners Association, he writes in his personal capacity, can be contacted at email@example.com
This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Mining Zimbabwe magazine