Introduction to artisanal gold mining.

This morning you left for work: picking up your car keys and headphones on your way out, ring finger already tapping against a mug of machine brewed coffee in anticipation of your favourite tune, you waved goodbye to your children safe in the knowledge that life for you and your family is secure. 

In other parts of the world, artisanal or micro-scale miners set out to dig the many minerals and metals that make up the technology you take for granted. Theirs is a world with minimum technology and little capital to buy these simple implements they will use for mining. We call it mining, even though the word appears to have negative connotations in our present age. Like drugs, sex work, abuse, and petty crime, we all wish the world was a better place in which these things did not happen. Sadly, all these activities (and so much more, including mercury pollution) occur within the artisanal mining sector.

While legislation and cultural change towards products not made from newly mined minerals, metals, and stones may in due course ‘make mining history’, the world we are trying to engage with is mining as livelihood, not for profit or consumption. Millions of the world’s poorest make their daily living through scratching, rooting and digging around in the soils, riverbeds, and rocks of their neighbourhoods to feed their families and acquire necessities.

Sadly, children of school-going age are often involved in helping their families make a living:

Some digging goes deep enough to be called underground mining:

This shows gold ore being hoisted from a pit, with the plastic bucket attached by a rope to a windlass at the edge of the mining site.

Once hoisted, the rocks need to be crushed into smaller pieces by hand, before being milled into powder:

The powder is then washed in hand-held basins into which mercury has also been poured in. During the panning, free gold particles amalgamate with the mercury and are trapped in the bottom of the pan:

The amalgam is then heated over an open fire in small containers and the mercury burned off, leaving beads of impure gold:

These impure beads are then sold immediately for cash to local gold dealers:

This the world that CRED is engaged with through their partners ‘Foundations for Mining’ who are active in Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Looking at life from the underground up, from the perspective of the marginalised, the sufferers, the disadvantaged, whose daily toil, and dangers to be faced, should not be ignored in our quest to consume gold, cobalt, lithium, to name three of their products.

If the Tesco’s strapline ‘every little helps’ bears any truth, than we cannot withhold any little help towards positive spiritual, social, environmental, and economic impacts, even if it means only mitigating the negative impacts of artisanal mining. Foundations for Mining feels compelled to act, and some of the ways we are doing so include the following:

Assisting women miners who are often the breadwinners but tend to treat the discards to remove remaining particles of gold, hard work with low reward. Their subsidy reduces the costs which they pay to owners of the equipment used during processing of tailings, which allows increased take-home revenues from their hard-scrabble daily livelihood.  

Sponsoring the equipping of rooms or buildings to be used for pastoral/ counselling work with individual miners or business training purposes that will give essential skills for managing artisanal mining enterprises.

Supporting local professionals who deliver the training or help within the hubs that is required to transform communities.

Initially purchasing and donating the mobile equipment to be used by the technicians and practitioners that will improve efficiencies, as well as reducing labour, costs, and environmental pollution by mercury. Once these advantages are seen and accepted by local entrepreneurs, the system will become self-supporting, but establishing credibility is paramount.

Supporting the motorcycle-mounted operators whose expertise, toughness, and bravery in taking their equipment to out-of-the-way mining sites will barely be recognised, let alone subsidised.

Initially donating personal protective equipment and other materials to improve safety, health, productivity, and reduce the negative environmental impact of artisanal mining.

Financially assisting communities to reach the standards of the CRAFT 2.0 Code for Artisanal Mineral Producers, where costs of compliance are to be incurred. Experience shows that such attainment is usually beyond the wherewithal of mining communities.

We hope you are stirred by this brief overview of the sector and look forward to your response.

Comments are closed.