Artisanal and small scale mining is widespread in Africa and exploits a very large number of minerals. These range from diamonds and a variety of other gemstones, to precious metals, such as gold and tantalite, to industrial minerals, including limestone for aggregate and agricultural purposes, clays for pottery and other uses and many other non-metallic minerals. Generally, small scale mining makes a positive contribution to African economies but, more importantly it sustains livelihoods, especially given the large numbers of people involved.
Yet this sector is beset with a number of challenges which prevent it reaching its full developmental potential. Many of these are well known and include inadequate policy and regulatory frameworks; the limited technical capacity of miners; inadequately explored mineral bearing areas; lack of access to finance and appropriate technologies; and regrettably, child labour issues. These challenges generally lock small scale miners in a cycle of subsistence operations with significant negative consequences on the environment and human life. Further, the ASM sector is also prone to trade in conflict minerals as many of the miners operate outside the law for various reasons.
The ASM sector can be transformed into an engine for sustainable development, particularly in rural areas, if these challenges are adequately addressed through a series of well targeted interventions. These should recognise the need for ASM policy to be embedded into a broad rural development strategy, taking into account the poverty cycle that limits the development of the ASM sector in Africa. ASM interventions ought to also target transforming operations into viable ones, wherever possible.
NOTE: Some information on this page are from the African Mineral Vision thought starter document 2011.