Picturing the ASM space

Guest post by
Blogs, 5 June 2015

Involving a wide range of stakeholders is helping create a common understanding of the issues in addressing artisanal and small-scale mining. Matthew McKernan looks at how IIED's 'visioning workshop' has helped shape priorities going forward.

Women crush and separate rocks containing gold ore for extraction at Nsangano Gold Mine, Mawemeru village, Geita, Tanzania (Photo: Brian Sokol/Panos Pictures)

The gold mining industry is diverse and complex, ranging from the local artisanal labourer to the multinational industry leader, with local and international governments, communities, civil society organisations and many others holding a stake. 

To improve relations between these stakeholders, we need to understand them. Over the last couple of months, IIED has talked to all the major stakeholder groups and got many different perspectives on what the challenges are in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). 

Our 'visioning workshop' in April pulled together a range of global voices to reflect on the current state of play and challenges facing ASM. We have also undertaken comprehensive research and engaged with a wider group of stakeholders to assess what can realistically be achieved through a planned series of local dialogues.

The lie of the land 

Artisanal miners in Africa and Latin America told us they needed to be considered legitimate market players and that the diversity of ASM practices needed to be recognised. They called for a change in mindset across the sector to understand that mining was a means of ensuring their livelihoods.

Governments from ASM countries acknowledged their conflicting national and local development priorities, a lack of coordination among ministries, and they shared their frustrations at a lack of human and financial capacity to harness the potential of ASM.

Large-scale mining (LSM) companies told us their concerns about the security of their concessions and about how they are trying to minimise the huge political, operational and financial risks posed by ASM and to reduce the increasing number of corporate-community conflicts.

Junior mining companies, who are often the first on the ground and so engage with ASM, expressed their frustration at finding themselves in a 'Catch-22' scenario with limited capital and support, high expectations and an unproven resource.

And because tackling the challenges and realising the potential for ASM is not solely a mining issue, we also spoke with many donor governments and multilaterals who are wrestling with the contradictions of "one-size-fits-all" policy approaches to a context-specific issue. Meanwhile civil society groups expressed their concern of securing sustainable funding to improve the ASM sector.

Points of contention 

Drawing on these inputs, and on previous research, we can start to explore the emerging opportunities for greater collaboration between these groups.

Relations between ASM and LSM are complex. Both groups are mining sector participants but ASM is rarely recognised or supported as a legitimate industry player. The ASM-LSM dynamic usually centres on artisanal miners working on a LSM concession with or without permission.

As such, ASM can be both a security threat and an operational risk to company operations and personnel – but it can also be seen as a social issue. This can mean there is often an element of understanding between the parties: both are miners trying to maximise their profitability, ensure a livelihood and often work together to achieve these goals.

Relations between governments and ASM are complex. While governments were seen as the primary force for transforming the ASM sector, often their lack of knowledge, capacity and political will to improve ASM was considered the single greatest challenge by most interviewees.

And because governments tend to prioritise investment from multinational companies, rather than harnessing the developmental potential of their domestic small-scale and artisanal populations, ASM miners feel increasingly marginalised. 

Adding to the complications, relations between government and LSM tend to revolve around the expectation that the tax and royalties paid by companies will ensure law and order and a clear regulatory regime for their operations. But a lack of government capacity and the significant differences in resources and expertise available to individual mining companies, often prevent this from happening

Shared challenges

In our research, stakeholders prioritised a number of key issues to address in meeting the challenges and realising the opportunities across the mining sector. These included: 

  • Addressing the extreme vulnerabilities and dependencies that exist within ASM 
  • Strengthening mineral rights regimes through investment in governance
  • The need for new approaches to formalisation
  • A united response to security, migration and social disruption, and
  • Addressing the lack of government capacity. 

In the workshop, representatives from different sectors came together around the major challenges of formalisation, rights and government capacity.

Formalisation has to reflect local realities, mainstreamed in the national agenda, and supports a transition towards a secure, sustainable and productive ASM sector. This includes acknowledging that rights lie beneath any effort to formalise – the two must be considered together. Building understanding, incentives and resources for governments to support this will be a crucial ongoing goal.

A wordcloud showing some of the shared challenges faced by ASM, LSM and government

Addressing these issues through dialogue will allow local stakeholders to identify the context specific challenges and opportunities that should determine local development priorities.

And perhaps most importantly, a practical and outcomes-focused multi-stakeholder dialogue can act a catalyst for multi-stakeholder solutions to the challenges of the ASM sector, with ASM in the driving seat.

A shared vision

Each of these can be seen as a problem to solve or as an opportunity to realise. And each one needs the different parties to work together to move the debate forward and break the stalemate of recent years.

In the visioning workshop, we were able to agree on which of these shared challenges could be tackled through our planned in-country dialogues.

By talking through these common challenges and opportunities, we are developing a shared vision for the future of a more inclusive, sustainable and productive mining sector.

Matthew McKernan (matthew.mckernan@iied.org) is a research consultant with IIED's ASM programme.