Varvara Dmitrieva: The jewelry industry of Yakutia is distinguished by its creativity, unique cultural code and conservation of traditions

Varvara Dmitrieva, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Precious Stones and Metals Processing Technologies of the North-Eastern Federal University, told Rough&Polished about the results of the Forum of jewelry Craftsmanship and the prospects...

16 april 2024

Valery Budny: There is no strategy and legislation in Russia enabling the full cycle processing of precious raw materials within the country

Valery Budny, Head of the Jewelry Russia program and CEO of the JUNWEX media holding, told Rough&Polished about the results of the meeting and pressing issues in the precious metals and precious stones (PMPS) and the jewelry sectors.

11 april 2024

Paul Zimnisky: Natural diamonds face the risk of eroding their appeal if constantly discounted

New York-based independent diamond and jewellery analyst and consultant Paul Zimnisky told Rough & Polished’s Mathew Nyaungwa in an exclusive interview that the industry should do away with discounts. He said the industry should treat natural diamonds...

01 april 2024

Edahn Golan: Lab-grown diamond prices to continue declining

In an exclusive interview with Rough&Polished's Mathew Nyaungwa, Edahn Golan, proprietor of the eponymous Edahn Golan Diamond Research and Data, predicted that the prices of lab-grown diamonds would continue to decline, especially at the retail and...

25 march 2024

ADPA’s Ellah Muchemwa: G7 restrictions to bring extra costs from diamond mining to retail

The African Diamond Producers Association (ADPA), which has openly registered its disdain for the G7’s rough diamond trade restrictions, is of the opinion that the move will bring extra costs on all stages, from mining to retail. ADPA executive...

18 march 2024

Mining majors' expertise and resources to help ASMs increase productivity and reduce accidents

29 january 2024

Research papers worldwide indicate that there are 45 million artisanal miners, including their families, which means there are more than 200 million people who are fully supported by artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), operating in more than 80 largely underdeveloped countries around the world. This figure is not solely from diamond and gold ASM but from various other metals and minerals as well.

The World Bank estimates that another 134–269 million people sell food, shelter, clothing, and equipment into the sector. These figures show that ASM is often deeply integrated into nearby communities, with not only the miners themselves but also the businesses that sell products and services to the miners often originating from these communities. Regarding the ratio of men and women, 30 percent of artisanal miners are female globally. But in Africa, it is more like 50 percent, which underscores the community inclusion side of ASM.

Having spent the first two decades of my life in a gold mining area in India, I watched poor and vulnerable artisanal miners, men and women (mostly illegal), sifting sand at small water bodies. Later, I learned that they were looking for gold. Till today, the picture in my mind refuses to go away. It is said that ASM may have existed prior to large mining projects being even contemplated. In fact, ASM, both present and active, can be an exploration indicator for potential large projects, indicating the possibility of valuable mineral reserves.

To get an idea of the pattern of globally operated ASM, a country-wise assessment may help to understand it clearly. For instance, as a country with a strong mining industry, there are many Australian mining majors that also operate on international and global scales. Mining majors like Rio Tinto and BHP, along with many mid-sized mining companies, have been operating projects across all continents. However, major mining companies or large projects are said to face problems, legal risks, etc. due to conflict arising from the fact that artisanal miners are present on or near their formal land concessions.

So, this is how the artisanal miners are engaged and what kind of 'collaboration' can affect legal risks for large projects. Also, the ability of large companies is directly impacted by their ability to earn social licenses with broader communities in the vicinity of projects. So, to ensure relationships are geared toward long-term success and win-win value, large mining companies are beginning to recognize that ASMs are unique stakeholders to be supported with transparent dialogue, training, and supporting the implementation of good practices. Also, larger mining companies are providing the natural expertise and resources that they are capable of offering. By equipping artisanal miners to increase their productivity, it also reduces risks as a natural approach toward LSM-ASM collaboration.

Larger mining projects should also be aware that artisanal miners and those who sell various goods and services to these miners may be community members. This understanding also broadens sustainable development in the region while directly adding value to artisanal miners, the large project itself, and small businesses in local communities. Larger projects should remember that ASM may have been on the ground first and is part of the broader context of earning a social license. Also, social teams need to be followed by support from different parts of large mining organizations. For example, engineers, geologists, and various other core mining professionals like lawyers and more administrative-oriented support staff should train artisanal miners in ways that reduce their potential vulnerability.

According to reports, mercury, used extensively by artisanals, is a controlled substance in Brazil, and sales are illegal if not registered, stating its origin and use. Brazil does not produce mercury, which must be imported, and illegal purchases are made on the Internet by platforms such as Mercado Libre, an Argentine company headquartered in Uruguay and incorporated in the United States. Brazil probes Mercado Libre sales of mercury used by illegal gold miners. Public prosecutors chasing illegal gold mining in Brazil’s Amazon region opened an investigation into online sales of mercury through Mercado Libre, Latin America’s largest e-commerce site. The Federal Prosecutors’ Office recommended Mercado Libre ban mercury ads from its platform, inform authorities about those who are placing them, and establish better controls over the trade in what it called “an extremely dangerous pollutant.” Wildcat miners in the Amazon use liquid mercury to agglutinate gold particles and separate them from ore and dirt when they dredge through muddy excavations in the rainforest. Mercury pollutes the rivers and poisons the fish, a staple for Indigenous communities in the Amazon, where studies show women and children with dangerously high levels of mercury in their blood. Stopping the sale of mercury, along with fuel supplies and the financing of mine prospects, is part of the Brazilian government’s crackdown on illegal gold mining that has surged in recent years in the Amazon. The Mercado Libre sales platform has been used indiscriminately for trading liquid mercury without any control over the origin of the material or the parties involved in the transactions. Mercado Libre said it was ready to help prosecutors with their investigations into the sale of prohibited products. As soon as such products are identified, the ads are removed, the seller is notified, and they could be banned from the platform.

A major drawback in the mining sector is that news stories tend to highlight 'failures', especially focusing on the ASMs. Conflicts in Peru were broadcast widely regarding issues with artisanal miners found on land concessions. In Tanzania, Barrick Gold removed artisanal miners from its land concessions, resulting in the deaths of dozens of miners. However, Newmont Gold's story is different and is an example of a large mining company with successful relationships with artisanal miners as it solves issues in quiet collaborations. This gives the artisanal miners themselves and neighboring communities enhanced dignity and the potential for sustainable development, whereas conflict results in further misery. Materially reducing conflict risk improves project net present value (NPV), as these risks do not play out on projects. Being disciplined and clear on the theory of change implications of these impacts is an essential part of developing the understanding that is key to success. As with broader community engagement that leads to earning a social license, successful engagement with artisanal miners needs to be culturally grounded in the large mining company. Respecting and valuing the perspectives of artisanal miners is a starting point for earnest dialogue that seeks out win-win solutions. Patience is essential; the speed of trust cannot be bypassed as part of this dialogue. Looking deeper, solutions that build mutual LSM-ASM value require flexibility in LSM functions. Value is long-term and may require doing things that are outside of leveraged LSM business practices, such as collaborating offline and in environments with legal contracts that are not as formally documented as they may be with other stakeholders. This might be necessary in a situation where a contract supported by digitized business flows may not be fit for purpose with potentially illiterate artisanal miners who do not have the educational context for engaging on that level. There are about 70,000 artisanal gold miners in Senegal. Just like elsewhere, mercury is a scourge in ASM gold production, poisoning soil, water, animals, and people. Investment that enables ASM professionalization can change paradigms on dignity and productivity in the sector.

Shifting from mercury to viable, safe alternatives is one of several positive outcomes that are delivered. Investment is commercially viable; productivity results in value. Despite the Minamata Convention a decade ago on shifting from mercury, today there are close to 20 million artisanal gold miners worldwide using mercury—far too many using it! Illegal gold mining activity has surged in the West African nation, accounting for six metric tons of the country’s 66.2 tons of production in 2022.

Artisanal mining is a common activity across much of West Africa and has risen in recent years due to growing demand for metals and rising prices. Deadly accidents are frequent as artisanal miners often use old-fashioned and unregulated methods of digging. The incident in Mali occurred recently on January 24 at a site in the Kangaba Cercle in the south-western Koulikoro Region. Gold panners dug galleries without complying with the required standards, despite authorities having advised them against it on several occasions in vain, leading to the tragedy. Sadly, the tunnel at an artisanal gold mine site in the Kangaba district in the country’s south-west is burying dozens of people, and rescuers are searching for trapped miners.

Taking a proactive stance on engagement with artisanal miners who share land concessions with large mining projects brings value to the large mining community, to the artisanal miners themselves, and to broader communities that are in the area of influence of the project. Success requires earnest, respectful engagement and collaborative solution design that integrates the voices of artisanal miners. This work is essential for delivering sustainable value and development as trust becomes the norm in relationships. Large-scale projects are natural focal points in formalization initiatives, which also require highly capable socio-economic, data, safety, mining practice, digitization, communication, and engagement expertise. Delivering success makes strong business sense as conflict and other risks are converted into collaborative productivity improvement opportunities for large projects, catalyzing potential sustainable development in neighboring communities and enhancing both dignity and productivity for artisanal miners themselves.

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough&Polished