JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A new report has revealed explosive growth in the number of artisanal and small-scale miners worldwide over the past two decades amid rising mineral prices and a general struggle in earning a living from agriculture.
The Intergovernmental Forum (IGF) on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development estimated a more than doubling in the number of artisanal and small-scale miners from six-million in 1993 to 13-million in 1999.
By 2017, this figure had grown to 40.5-million, a further significant surge on the 30-million reported in 2014.
That compares with only seven-million people working in industrial mining in 2013.
The study found that artisanal and small-scale mining is generally recognised as a considerable source of revenue for millions of people in about 80 countries worldwide – mostly in the global south, namely sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Oceania, Central and South America – with some 150-million people currently depending on artisanal and small-scale mining for their livelihoods.
Further, despite its low productivity, it is believed that artisanal and small-scale mining contributed 15% to 20% of global nonfuel mineral production.
Up to 20% of the global gold supply is produced by the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, along with 80% of the global sapphire supply and 20% of global diamond supply.
In addition, the study found that 26% of global tantalum production and 25% of tin come from artisanal and small-scale miners.
“For many people in the world’s poorest countries, artisanal and small-scale mining is the only route out of poverty, or the sole way to boost meagre incomes when there are few job alternatives,” said IGF director Greg Radford.
In many countries, 70% to 80% of small-scale miners were informal, which underpins the sector’s poor performance and traps the majority of miners and communities in cycles of poverty and exclusion from legal protection and support, he added.
The number of artisanal and small-scale miners are estimations owing to gaps in data, with the activity often informal and operating illegally in several countries. Further, the significant migratory nature of the sector and informal workforce within countries, regions and commodities also made it difficult to pinpoint more accurate figures.
The data presented shows most operators are located in Asia, with a total average of at least 10.6-million in 2014, followed by Africa, with a total average of at least 9.9-million and Latin America with a total average of at least 1.4-million in 2014.
Two countries in Africa, namely the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, were home to more than one-million miners, along with one country in Asia, namely China, and none in Latin America.
There were four countries with an average of 500 000 to one-million miners in Africa in 2014 – Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Tanzania – but none in Asia or Latin America.