Svenja Brachmann explains how a GIZ programme in Madagascar is promoting more responsible artisanal and small-scale mining.
The artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector is one of paradox: full of possibility yet laden with challenge.
On the one hand, it creates a wealth of jobs and local business opportunities in some of the world's most impoverished and marginalised regions. In Madagascar, an estimated one in 25 people earns a living from ASM.
On the other hand, the sector is dogged with well-documented problems: negative impacts on the environment (a major concern for Madagascar given its unique and already endangered biodiversity) – poor health and safety practices, vulnerability of mine workers, and an unregulated market that exploits people in some of the world's poorest communities.
Dialogue is essential to tackle the many challenges of Madagascar's ASM sector. Only collaborative solutions will help ASM become more productive, equitable and sustainable.
But dialogue and exchange between the different ASM stakeholders is rare and there have been few spaces bringing together artisanal miners, communities, governments, civil society organisations and others to identify solutions.
Until now. Over the last two years, GIZ's ASM dialogues in Madagascar, with support from IIED, have brought these groups together, working to improve the sector's governance.
Through ongoing engagement and consultation, the approach has built on evidence and best practice, forming the basis for several rounds of dialogue in gold and gemstone mining areas, as well as in the capital Antananarivo.
The results from these dialogues are now feeding into a national strategy for better governance in the ASM sector and are also being taken into account by the government as they revise the mining code.
In parallel, our programme has been piloting practical activities in several ASM communities. We aim to test hands-on solutions that could be rolled out in other parts of the country as part of a larger process to reform the sector.
Increasing income from gemstones
Sakahara, Bekily and Mahaboboka are all communities rich in sapphires, located in the Atsimo-Andrefana region in south-western Madagascar. With financial support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia, we ran basic gemmology courses for 60 artisanal miners and members of the local community who depend on ASM.
Often, the women and men who dig, wash and sieve sapphires do not know how much their gemstones are worth – and they usually get a very low price from foreign buyers and traders.
The artisanal miners attending these workshops learned how to grade stones, empowering them to negotiate a fair price for their products. Such knowledge is critical in a local gem market that is unregulated and exploitative.
Participants also learned how to identify artificial gems and to tell them apart from natural stones by their shape using basic equipment, as well as some basic mining techniques.
Everyone received a toolkit, essential for any gemmologist or gem cutter, including gem tweezers and grabber, a loupe magnifier and a waterproof torch.
Participants learned how to build their own dichroscope, the very popular handheld tool used for viewing the different colours or shades of a piece of rough gemstone. They were also instructed in how to hold their tools correctly, giving an air of professionalism to the way they handle gems.
Making abandoned mines safer and greener
Madagascar's ASM activities are largely informal and the majority of artisanal and small-scale miners do not have mining permits or licenses. This makes it very difficult for local authorities to hold informal miners to account.
When extraction ceases, many mines are left abandoned, posing serious safety risks to local communities. Open mining pits have caused major accidents, frequently claiming the lives of cattle and, in some tragic cases, adults and even children.
In one of the sites in Atsimo-Andrefana where GIZ has been working, abandoned mining shafts, some 50 metres deep, were within walking distance of the local school, putting many children in danger.
Over the past two years, we have worked with local authorities, community members and miners, to rehabilitate two sapphire sites in Bekily, a district of the rural commune of Ambinany, and Ankiliabo, in the rural commune of Mahaboboka, both in southwest Madagascar.
Working to return the land to its natural state we planted roughly 23,000 trees, including several timber species and fruit trees. In the future, these could supplement the income of the local community.
In total, 16 hectares have been rehabilitated by filling pits and shafts and planting seedlings. Inspired by these results, several local groups are now taking the initiative to plant trees in other local areas to control erosion and replenish soils.
Madagascar still has a very long journey ahead towards a fully productive and equitable ASM sector. But through dialogue and collaboration, we are taking some initial steps in the right direction.
Svenja Brachmann (email@example.com) is an advisor on extractive industries, working for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources programme at GIZ Madagascar. IIED is convening ASM dialogue processes in Ghana and Tanzania and has supported GIZ's ASM dialogues in Madagascar.