Mali is making changes to its artisanal mining practices, boosting funding for the independent miners, and policing the sector that produces about a third of the country’s gold exports.
At a mining reform meeting on Thursday, Abdoulaye Pona, president of Mali’s chamber of mines, and mine minister, Boubou Cisse, said the government was negotiating with banks to give miners easier access to financing for equipment, and that newly formed cooperatives would be supervised and revenues distributed equitably.
Artisanal miners are also known as subsistence miners, as they are not affiliated with a mining company, but rather work independently, mining or panning for gold. More than 100 million people, primarily in developing countries, rely on this sector for income.
Unfortunately, monitoring and enforcement of the artisanal mining industry is hampered by informality, the remote location of mine operations, and a lack of resources. As a result, artisanal gold mining is plagued by frequent fatal accidents, child labor, smuggling, and contribution to widespread environmental damage.
Since these miners are working independently, their tools and equipment are often obsolete, and they have little or no safety equipment. But with access to financing, and gold revenues now being distributed equitably, miners will be able to afford better equipment, resulting in safer working conditions and, hopefully, fewer fatalities.
Artisanal mining takes place primarily in developing countries, in dangerous and unpredictable environments. The equipment that an artisanal miner uses is crucial to his safety, and his ability to support himself and his family. This equipment needs to be kept safe, and with their newfound financing options, the miners can afford some protective cases for their equipment.
But their equipment is not the only problems. Artisanal mining is well-known for using child labor. A 2011 report by Human Rights Watch detailed reports of children aged six to 17 in Mali’s artisanal mines digging pits, working underground in unstable mines, carrying and crushing heavy ore, and using toxic mercury to extract gold.
“We will not allow children into gold mining sites,” said President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was also in attendance at the meeting. “We have to stop this.”
This reform meeting follows the death of 16 people and the injuring of eight, after a shaft in an artisanal gold mine collapsed 80 miles south of Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Saturday.