Time to formalise artisanal small-scale mining
Published On February 8, 2023 » 989 Views» By Times Reporter » Business, Columns
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AS commodity prices are tipped to reach an all-time high prices this year and there is need to build a robust and resilient small-scale mining industry.
The prices of copper on the international market are hovering around US$9,500 that of nickel is on the upswing, lithium has come on board, emeralds, manganese and gold are all enjoying good values on the international market.
The main mover of prices seems to be the discovery of electric vehicles that is causing serious demand for energy minerals coupled with the geopolitical conflict involving commodity giant producers Russia and its neighbouring Ukraine.
Analysts also attribute the resurgence in the prices of precious metals like gold to the looming global economic recession, holding a view that when such happens, there is a tendency by businesses and individuals to store value in precious stones.
They opt out of bonds and equity.
Hence, a well-organised and formalised Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sector has potential of improving the livelihood for millions of people, representing a major source of economic development if equipped with the necessary capital.
The segment can contribute significantly to the job creation and economic development because of the multiplier effects.
It is not a secret that ASM has for many years been a source of income for a significant portion of the informal sector, particularly women world over.
Globally, it is estimated that globally, more than 40 million people work in this unregulated sector which is poverty driven.
The sector is largely unregulated resulting in limited information on production, revenues, employment and operations.
Governments in many countries regard ASM as an illegal activity that consequently lack adequate regulatory and policy framework which prevents the formalisation of the sector.
ASM activities in Zambia are largely dominated by minerals such as amethyst, manganese, red garnet, topaz, emeralds, gold, tourmaline, copper ore dump sites among others.
Despite the activities being in existence for many years now in Zambia, it has remained informal due to lack of information on how to conduct the activity.
According to a survey conducted by the ministry of Mines and Mineral Development in 109 ASM mining sites, the vast majority of the ASM workers do not know that their ASM activities required a valid licence nor do they know how to obtain such a licence.
The survey was conducted with the support of the African Caribbean and Pacific Countries-European Union (ACP-EU) development minerals programmes.
Despite the sector being a source of livelihood for thousands of Zambians, it is faced with a number of challenges among them, low productivity, limited regard for health and environmental standards and the absence of social security.
The activity is also environmentally damaging and often has serious health and safety consequences for workers and surrounding communities due to poor practices in mining and processing target minerals.
The absence of formalisation for many years now has led to many potential economic benefits being lost through poor practice in mining, processing and marketing the target minerals.
Emeralds and Precious Stone Mining Association of Zambia (ESMAZ) president Victor Kalesha says artisanal and small-scale miners have been facing historical challenges, among them lack of formalisation.
Mr Kalesha is calling for partnership with government and cooperating partners to help address the historical challenges that the artisanal small-scale mining sector is facing in Zambia.
He says the artisanal small-scale mining sector lacks equipment, access to finance and geological information which hinders production of the mineral in the country.
As for Small Scale Miners Association of Zambia (SSMAZ) president Kunda Chani, the sector has, for a long time, been unregulated, resulting in it recording many deaths through unsafe mining practices.
Mr Chani says for a long time now, the country has lacked policy direction in the artisanal sub-sector.
In addressing some of these challenges, the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) has recommended the development of a stand-alone mining policy and mineral-specific strategies for artisanal small scale mining.
PMRC acting managing director Sydney Mwamba says the development of the standalone policy will help address the challenges faced within the sub-sectors effectively.
Mr Mwamba says the government should consider expediting the establishment of a directorate for artisanal miners under the ministry of Mines and Minerals Development.
“Government should also consider supporting women-led artisanal businesses, cooperatives and networks through the provision of incentives such as tax incentives, easing of formalisation standards, streamlining regulations and mining licence procedures,” he says.
To ensure that the activity contributes to economic development and poverty reduction in areas where it is practised, the ‘New Dawn’ government has recognised ASM and is working on formalising it.
The government in the newly-launched National Minerals and Development Policy and in the 2023 national budget has recognised artisanal mining.
Mines and Minerals Development Minister Paul Kabuswe says the policy has been designed to improve the operating environment for the mining sector to unlock investments which would result in increased output for sustainable wealth and job creation.
Mr Kabuswe says the policy sought to promote safe mining practices by both small and large scale entities to attain the targeted vision of hitting a three-million tonne copper production rate in the next 10 years.
He encourages robust mine exploration activities by both artisanal and large-scale mining entities to lift the country’s current mineral mapping statistics which only covers 55 per cent of the potential mineral endowed landscape.
Beside the formulation of policy and formalisation of the ASM, there is need for improved access to finance through the establishment of a fund at the ministry of mines and minerals development and improved access to technology, skills transfer and training.
The provision of incentives to power operators will encourage the formalisation of the artisanal mining activities which will eventually spur productivity, stimulate economic growth, job creation and economic empowerment.
For this to be achieved, there is need for more consented efforts from government, stakeholders and cooperating partners to ensure the mining activity is formalised and legalised.

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