Waking the lazy, sleepy giant

A two-day 'visioning workshop' on artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) generated a shared sense of optimism – and a vision to wake up the "big lazy sleeping giant" that is government.

James McQuilken's picture
Insight by 
James McQuilken
James McQuilken is a PhD researcher at the University of Surrey Business School
21 May 2015
IIED's ASM workshop brought together stakeholders from across the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to share their experiences and perspectives (Photo: Teresa Corcoran/IIED)

IIED's ASM workshop brought together stakeholders from across the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to share their experiences and perspectives (Photo: Teresa Corcoran/IIED)

IIED's two-day workshop bringing together artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) stakeholders provided a unique opportunity to generate a shared vision for the sector. With key stakeholders all in the same room for the first time, this was a great opportunity to focus on potential solutions to some of the issues relating to ASM.

This workshop, which IIED explained is part of a broader five-year ASM policy dialogues, reflects the need to shape an agenda for collaboration in order to tackle the complex shared challenges within the ASM sector.

Indeed, despite its growing economic importance and potential to support the livelihoods of 20-30 million people worldwide, ASM remains little recognised and supported, beset with pressing environmental and social problems, and marginalised on the periphery of international and national development agendas.

This first IIED visioning workshop was therefore a pivotal moment. Providing a unique global forum, stakeholders from across the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia were able to share their knowledge, experience and perspectives collectively for the first time. The 40-plus participants included government ministers, academics, large-scale mining companies and small-scale miners, international donors, NGOs and business membership associations.

Hearing the voices of ASM

IIED had pre-selected seven priority issues for discussion, which the institute explained were the output from several months of in-depth research and analysis, tasking participants to establish a 'vision for ASM'. The seven issues discussed were how to agree roles and responsibilities for ASM; improve our knowledge of ASM; amplify ASM voice; address vulnerability; strengthen mineral rights; incorporate new lessons on formalisation; and tackle migration and security.

To encourage full collaboration and sharing, participants were grouped variously throughout the workshop as they discussed the different issues and which should be prioritised in dialogue. Most importantly, the voice of artisanal and small-scale miners was heard – as leaders from mining associations in Peru and Mongolia spoke directly to those in the room.

Waking the giant

By the end of day one, a consensus had materialised. In a sector where the majority of miners operate informally (without legal sanction) the overarching challenge of how to formalise the sector took centre stage. For this to occur, however, participants agreed that the "big lazy, sleepy giant" that is government needed to wake up to the economic and livelihood opportunities the sector can provide.

With better understanding of the sector, including some 'myth-busting' around existing assumptions, mechanisms to incentivise and properly resource government efforts to formalise ASM can be implemented.

These building blocks will then pave the way for formalisation efforts that should reflect the local realities, territories and rights regimes, and which can be implemented and mainstreamed in national and international policy.

This truly insightful, comprehensive and endorsed output reflected the voice of all stakeholders. But how exactly is IIED translating this vision for ASM, forged at the workshop, into action?

Sharing knowledge

Building on the previous day's activities, day two saw participants discuss existing and potential innovations that may help to realise this vision.

The multi-stakeholder dialogue came into its element, as participants shared their knowledge and debated the different interventions and mechanisms used to support the ASM sector globally. Following on, participants were grouped by region, acknowledging the importance of context, and asked 'what would a national-level multi-stakeholder dialogue look like?’'

It is here that IIED will translate the vision for ASM into action. The voices and outputs of the workshop will shape the framework for the next phase of IIED's ASM Knowledge Programme – a series of in-country dialogues.

The exact agenda and outcomes of the in-county dialogues, IIED emphasised, will be determined by local stakeholders and priorities. However, the means for impact will at its heart be new relations between previously disparate stakeholders, participants with new knowledge and national governments engaged.

A round-up of IIED's coverage of the visioning workshop is available via Storify, or can be found below.  

Moving forward

These dialogues will take place, initially in three countries, coordinated by IIED and overseen by a multi-stakeholder and multicultural dialogue advisory board. The final part of the workshop asked participants directly which stakeholders should be in such a group and how countries should be selected.

There was a real sense of excitement among the participants at the prospect of a programme to facilitate national and local level multi-stakeholder ASM dialogues in their own countries and regions of work. IIED is working with partners and donors to develop a global programme that will respond to the level of enthusiasm and ambition expressed.

Perhaps the excitement for the programme itself reflects the lack of support for artisanal and small-scale mining over the last four decades. Within such a space, the need to generate quick, scalable wins must be tempered with ensuring that the sector's complex drivers, processes and stakeholders are fully understood and their voices accounted for before solutions can be tabled.

IIED's multi-stakeholder dialogue approach, and wider ASM Knowledge Programme, is certainly an integral part of this first stage.

With an in-country dialogue process set to begin June 2015, this will hopefully pave the way for placing artisanal and small-scale mining at the heart of development plans, catalyse renewed international and national government action, and realise the economic potential of the sector, and, along the way, empower some of the world's most impoverished people.

James McQuilken ([email protected]is a PhD researcher at the University of Surrey Business School examining ASM and mineral certification schemes in West Africa. He participated and took notes for IIED at the visioning workshop.