Using dialogue to extract sustainable solutions for artisanal and small-scale mining

Blog by
26 February 2018

Fitsum Weldegiorgis shares challenges and successes from IIED's artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) dialogues in Ghana, Madagascar and most recently in Tanzania.

Artisanal and small-scale mining stakeholders in Tanzania explore solutions to key challenges (Photo: Steve Aanu/IIED)

For resource-rich developing countries, the mining industry is often one of the biggest drivers of development and economic growth. But policy and planning initiatives designed to harness the sector's potential are frequently derailed by its negative social, economic and environmental impacts.

Deforestation, land degradation and contamination from poisonous chemicals – to name just a few – mask the industry's development potential. Interventions focus on addressing challenges – and opportunities for nurturing a more inclusive and accountable mining sector are missed.

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), in particular, struggles to shake off its heavily tainted image, stemming from the sector's well-documented troubles.

However, there is growing acknowledgement that ASM is creating employment and generating income for millions in poor and marginalised communities. Recognising the sector's role in advancing sustainable development is a major step forward.

Recent initiatives illustrate how mining can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include an atlas mapping mining to the SDGs and top level guidelines on how metals and mining connect with the goals.

But to unlock ASM's full potential, key actors need to physically come together, to map out and unpack the sector's complex problems and agree on solutions to drive the reform process. This was the premise for designing IIED's mining dialogue methodology

Reflecting on IIED's in-country dialogues 

So far, IIED has rolled out the methodology in Ghana, Madagascar and, most recently, Tanzania. Across the three countries, the inclusive approach has mobilised key stakeholders (those in the ASM supply and value chains, local and national government, large-scale mining companies, civil society, private sector, and learning and training institutions) in collectively scoping the sector's priority challenges and designing solutions in their respective countries.

Convening key stakeholders in active dialogue – particularly voices that have previously gone unheard – and learning from each other through shared experiences and ideas has built trust and created new partnerships. Men and women miners, mining associations, the surrounding communities, mineral processors, traders and dealers were all able to voice their concerns and bring forward their ideas for reform.

We received positive feedback about the methodology's approach of providing an inclusive and transparent space for all stakeholders – often with conflicting interests – to identify the main problems and collectively reach solutions. All stakeholders saw real value in the local ownership of the roadmap's design and execution.

Learning through doing: taking lessons learnt to Tanzania

IIED's dialogue approach, centring on active multi-stakeholder participation, is complex and inevitably hits stumbling blocks while bringing challenges to the surface. Among the valuable lessons we drew from Ghana and Madagascar and fed into the Tanzania dialogue were:

  • Government acknowledgment of the dialogue's potential and support in implementing the programme is crucial. Scoping key government agencies and communicating with them in the early stages ensured buy-in for the dialogue methodology
  • Local dialogue partners need sufficient resource and institutional capacity support to grasp and implement the methodology
  • IIED's support to local partners in ensuring quality of dialogue research, engagements and communications is instrumental for achieving high quality dialogue with successful outcomes
  • The Learning and Leadership Group (LLG), established to guide the design and implementation of the roadmap, needs government mandate and sufficient resources to build institutional capacity. IIED has a key role in building capacity of the LLG and in steering design, and possibly implementation of the roadmap, and
  • Design of the Tanzania roadmap – following a successful dialogue event in Geita in November 2017 – is now under way. Government support will ensure the process aligns with national strategies and remains practical and relevant for policymakers. 

Learning and Leadership Groups: pitfalls and progress

The LLG is a multi-stakeholder body, formed to oversee and drive forward activities while linking up with national policymakers. The LLG is responsible for ensuring the dialogues continue beyond the first two years.

  • The Ghanaian LLG, albeit constrained by financial resources, enthusiastically worked on designing its roadmap while developing a strategy that responded to national policy priorities. However, challenges – including a temporary ban on ASM and the fallout from a change in government – stalled roadmap progress
  • In Madagascar, support from the government and IIED, alongside partners GIZ, helped finalise Madagascar's strategy. This will inform ASM policy as part of a new mining code
  • The newly formed Tanzanian LLG is busy consolidating its structures. Learning from the Ghana experience – where insufficient financing led to delays – more effort is being made to ensure the Tanzanian LLG's activities have enough funding and government endorsement to develop the roadmap by August 2018.

Where next?

Looking ahead, we are ready to build on this momentum and explore opportunities for roll-out of further dialogues.

IIED, in collaboration with Fundacao Amazonas Sustentavel (FAS) and UNDP Latin America, has drafted a concept document for a regional artisanal and small-scale gold mining dialogue in the Amazon, starting with Peru, Brazil and Colombia.

As our evidence base grows – drawn from various country and regional contexts – we will continue to develop and sharpen our methodology. At the same time, we will pursue opportunities for advancing inclusive, sustainable mining through our dialogue programme. Watch this space.

Fitsum Weldegiorgis ( is senior researcher in IIED's Shaping Sustainable Markets research group.