Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is a mining practice that requires labour-intensive mineral extraction and processing using minimal modern machines. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) provides essential livelihood to more than 150 million people globally.
The sector has recently grabbed the interest of international organisations and government institutions because of its strong influence on the nation's economy, environment and society.
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Various minerals, including gold, diamond, gemstones, cobalt, coal, etc., are mined by artisanal activities.
There are numerous factors responsible for ASM activities. However, poverty is the biggest driver as it helps the poor earn their livelihood in largely rural communities. ASM activities provide income for their livelihood; however, they remain trapped in these activities because of the lack of alternate earning sources. Because of poverty and lack of technical expertise, the productivity of the process remains low. The absence of good working conditions coupled with lower income leads to HSE related issue.
Since poverty is the main driver of ASM, the practice is common in less developed regions. Though ASM activities are carried out in more than 80 countries globally, the leading regions are the Caribbean, African, and Latin American regions. Pacific regions and East Asia are also among the leading regions where these practices are followed.
ASM has a wide role in sourcing geological materials and valuable minerals that are processed further to transform them into the products we use in our daily lives, like jewellery, automobile parts, electronic gadgets, etc. There is a vast dependence of western countries for the raw materials on the developing regions like Africa, South America and Oceana. ASM activities are legal in few countries.
ASM activities account for around 20 per cent of the world's annual supply of metals and minerals. The most common mineral mined through ASM is gold which contributes around 20 per cent of the world's total supply.
Around eighty per cent of sapphires and 20 per cent of the world's diamonds come through ASM activities. The world's 25 per cent of total tantalum production comes as a result of ASM activity. Sand, limestone and phosphate are small scale artisanal mining products that are usually referred to as Low-Value Minerals and Materials (LVMM).
There are various human rights challenges of the ASM sector. Let us have a brief look at the following challenges:
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Despite the existence of legal guidelines and frameworks, most of the ASM activities around the globe are carried out illegally without any type of permit or licenses. However, the formalisation of the sector will improve the working conditions for the miners. It will also help to reduce the negative environmental effects. Formalisation can also come up as a significant step to creating substantial job opportunities and revenue generation for the government.
Streamlining the licensing policy with the involvement of government institutions, proper allotment of mining rights and providing equipment support for the mining activities can help streamline and formalise the sector.
Better enforcement of laws related to ASM and education of those laws can help the miners regain their working rights. The commencement of an ASM association can also help the miners to develop and strengthen the community to incorporate the best practices into the sector by sharing the experiences of each other. These associations will also help the government and policymakers to build a knowledge-sharing forum and begin the consultation of specific matters.