Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining occurs in approximately 80 countries worldwide. There are approximately 100 million artisanal miners globally. Artisanal and small-scale production supply accounts for 80% of global sapphire, 20% of gold mining and up to 20% of diamond mining. It is widespread in developing countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Central and South America. Though the informal nature and on the whole un-mechanized operation generally results in low productivity, the sector represents an important livelihood and income source for the poverty affected local population. It ensures the existence of millions of families in rural areas of developing countries. About 100 million people – workers and their families, depend on artisanal mining compared to about 7 million people worldwide in industrial mining.
This article would evaluate the importance of the Artisanal Mining sector, its strength and weaknesses, alongside practices that can be adopted that would be highly advantageous to the sector.
What Is Artisanal Mining?
An Artisanal Miner or Small-Scale Miner (ASM) is a subsistence miner who is not officially employed by a mining company, but works independently, mining minerals using his own resources, usually by hand. Small-scale mining includes enterprises or individuals that employ workers for mining, but generally still use manually-intensive methods, working with hand tools. Primarily, ASM draws its economic importance from its labour intensity. Minerals commonly mined through artisanal mining are Coal, Iron, Lead, Zinc ores, Gold, Columbite and other precious minerals.
Nigeria is a country richly blessed with mineral resources but despite this fact, we are still largely held back by illiteracy and unemployment. The strength in this situation is that we have Artisanal Miners who are largely illiterates but create job opportunities for themselves in the mining industry. Over the last decade, we have seen a rise in the number of artisanal miners in Nigeria. As of 2019, 1,759 artisanal mining sites were discovered in the country. This means that if we have this amount of artisanal mining sites, then the number of actual miners who work on these sites would run into hundreds of thousands. What this further means is that the Artisanal mining sector is one with potential yet to be harnessed.
Legislations and Regulatory Body that Regulates Artisanal Mining in Nigeria
The principal legislation governing artisanal mining in Nigeria is the Minerals and Mining Act of 2007 ably supported by the Minerals and Mining regulations of 2011. The Ministry of Mines and Steel which has the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Department (ASSMD) holds the responsibility of assisting and supporting Small Scale and Artisanal Mining operations in the country. It also provides extensive services to Small-Scale and Artisanal Mining title holders, and assists artisanal and small-scale miners to access the Solid Mineral Development Fund established by the Act.
Challenges Facing the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) Sector
- Limited Awareness on Health Hazards:
The concept of Safe-mining is relatively new to artisanal miners because it is a knowledge-based kind of mining where the inherent dangers are largely assumed and no caution is given to dangers that cannot be seen. The health impacts of both lead and mercury are not immediately noticeable but manifest themselves over time. The most common effects of mercury exposure are mental retardation, delayed development, seizures, vision and hearing loss, with the cardiovascular and central nervous systems the most vulnerable.
Many of these same effects occur with lead poisoning, in addition to nerve damage, reproductive problems, liver and kidney damage, and muscle coordination. For both mercury and lead poisoning, the health effects are more pronounced in young children. Extreme exposure can lead to coma or even death. For women, exposure to mercury positively correlates with an increase in malformations and miscarriages during pregnancy. Many women have also reported menstrual cycle disorders.
2. Insufficient Sensitization on Safety Risks:
In recent research carried out in Nassarawa State, it showed that only 25.6% of the respondents had safety and protective gear for use during mining operations, while only 10.2% of the miners had access to first aid facilities in case of accidents. Only 20.5% of the miners had training on safety and health issues. These are definitely below standards for safe mining practice. In addition to the fact that the miners do not have access to safety equipment and first aid, the primary health facilities are far away from the mining sites. This means that when there are accidents, sickness, or exposure of miners to health hazards, they are not able to access healthcare timely.
3. Environmental Impact:
One of the environmental impacts observed was that miners abandon mining sites once they have exploited the mines up to their capacity. Such abandoned sites constitute environmental hazards and lead to further erosion, land degradation, and further leaching of heavy metals into nearby waterways. There is a need for land reclamation activities to return such lands to agricultural use. The digging of mines can also dig up and spread harmful materials, such as lead, that are located within the soil.
Mercury and other dangerous chemicals, such as cyanide, are commonly used in artisanal gold mining. Mercury can easily accumulate in fish, which not only harms the fish but all other animals, including humans, who eat fish. With proper sensitization and implementation of environmental law at the local level, these negative impacts can be put in check to protect our Lands, animals and society in the long run.
4. Cumbersome Process in Acquiring Small Scale Mining Lease:
As prescribed by Sections 49 and 90 of the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act 2007, all small-scale miners must acquire a lease from the Ministry of Mines and Steel to carry on business. Thus, the first step to formalization involves the ability to obtain a lease. While Nigeria’s Mining Act and regulations allow artisanal miners to obtain a Small-Scale Mining Lease, the process is difficult and costly.
Firstly, a processing fee of N50,000 payable to the Mining Cadastre Office through remittal. Each additional Cadastre Unit costs N20,000. While not prohibitive – particularly for mining cooperatives – is still a substantial sum for poor communities. In addition to the fee, the mineral lease application requires a pre-feasibility study, proof of sufficient working capital and technical competence, and details such as coordinates about the location of the proposed lease.
This approach taken thus far has focused on encouraging miners to form cooperatives in order to apply for a Small-Scale Mining Lease (to share the costs and administrative burdens of submitting an application), but this does not resolve the more fundamental question of the appropriateness of a small-scale mining lease for artisanal mining activities. It also raises questions about the challenges in forming mining cooperatives.
5. Access to Credit:
One of the most fundamental constraints to the ability of small-scale miners to upgrade equipment and engage in safer mining practices is their lack of financial capacity. Currently, Small-scale miners rely on what is sometimes referred to as predatory lenders for materials and supplies, which obligates them to sell their mineral findings to the lenders at below-market prices. This creates a cycle of dependence that is a barrier to the implementation of change in mining practices. Strengthening access to credit facilitates greater profitability because it allows miners to participate in the broader market and provides greater stability because miners can make longer-term investments.
INTERNATIONAL BEST PRACTICES THAT SHOULD BE ADOPTED IN NIGERIA’S MINING SECTOR
- Phase Requirements
Phasing the requirements placed on miners is usually a good way to lower the barrier of initial participation. It also gives the government the time needed to increase the capacity of miners to successfully go through the registration process. This does not mean total phasing of requirements. In 2018, the Vice President of Nigeria announced the slash of amount to be paid for the registration of business names in the Country under its Corporate Affairs Commission. This caused a very healthy trigger as businesses swamped in to formalize their businesses. This step can be taken for small scale miners too. Requirements for their registration can be reduced to a positive minimum. Fees to be paid can be reduced as well as the procedure to be registered easy. Some governments have even chosen to adopt a no questions asked policy to first establish themselves with these miners.
While such policies are not to be recommended everywhere, they show the importance of eliminating prohibitive requirements. In issuing mineral rights, it should be simple to administer, easy to understand by the miners, and also enable miners to scale up to the next level of mining operation. As such, the use of the Small-Scale Mining Lease as the primary vehicle for licensing artisanal miners should be revisited. Rather, it would be more effective to create a separate Artisanal Mining License for artisanal miners – one that is tailored to their specific needs and operations.
- Decentralize the market
This is extremely important for the miners and the economy. Buying centers for mined products must be decentralized and located in strategic places, determined by distance from mining areas and existing market structures. If centers are not decentralized enough, this will reinforce existing social hierarchies and the power of middlemen, by potentially giving them monopolistic positions, in their ability to transport the mined products from the mine to the center.
Small scale miners who struggle and live on loans from middlemen and loan sharks, will continue to sell below cost price to these middlemen and loan sharks. Illegal artisanal mining is supported by the black market and whilst the black market offers convenience and unrestricted activity, it remains primarily predatory in nature. It is important for governments to target and diminish the influence of the black market by creating an alternative trading prospect for these miners. Buying centers that have found success are those that form a close relationship with local communities by either being located close to them or by establishing close ties.
The Government also needs to be actively involved in this scheme to control prices. The Government can buy the products off the miners. To further this role, the government may choose to give back some of the revenues from the centers to the local community, and create stakeholder forums in which all involved parties are encouraged to participate.
- Raise awareness of chemical toxicity and alternatives
Coupling restrictions on hazardous substances with a progressive approach of providing incentives to switch, and assistance with switching to alternatives that do not negatively impact profitability, is more successful than a blanket ban, or restrictions alone in eliminating the use of hazardous substances among artisanal miners. These small-scale miners are largely illiterates, hence, active sensitization must be done to educate them about the damage these toxic chemicals can cause to their health. This sensitization must be done in the language these miners understand for optimal results.
- Technological Advancement
Funding is not the only kind of help the government can render these miners. The world revolves around technology now. As a matter of fact, most artisanal mining problems are somehow related to technical issues, and many of the problems can only be resolved by appropriate technical solutions. An obvious example is the mercury emissions from artisanal gold mining, which require end-of-pipe technology or modifications of mineral processing circuits. The misleading conclusion, frequently drawn from this apparent “cause-effect” relation, is that technique-related mining problems can be solved by a technique-oriented approach.
The implementation of technical changes, modifications and improvements require in almost any case, detailed knowledge of the cultural, social, economic and organizational context of the miners. Technical problems require technical solutions, but an integral approach for implementation. Loans can be given to these miners not always in cash but in equipment, alongside technical support that would teach these miners how to operate these machines in a way that they understand.
- The laws that guide the Artisanal Mining Sector in Nigeria should be improved upon. There should be better Policy Implementation and Legislation Enforcement.
- Integrate Artisanal Miners policy into the nation’s poverty alleviation programs.
- Support to Artisanal Mining operators and host communities materially and technically regarding safety, health, and environmental standards would ensure knowledge of safe mining and processing practices and minimize mine accidents and environmental pollution. There is a need to have environmental safety guidelines to ensure that the mining activities do not degrade the environment. These guidelines are actually in existence but are not implemented. The role of Mine inspectors needs to be enhanced.
- Artisanal Miners should have better access to credit and loan facilities.
- Encourage ASM mentoring programs by professional bodies and/ or large-scale mining operators.
- An IT unit with a GIS, database and remote-sensing applications to promote data acquisition by the Ministry of Mines and Steel staff, the identification of areas of high mining interest by applying a remote-sensing monitoring system should be set up.
The mining sector in Nigeria can provide a wide range of opportunities for country’s economic growth and the overall development of the country. Therefore, adequate emphasis should be placed on this sector to properly harness its potential.