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Professionalization of the Artisanal Gold Mining Sector

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When asked what the Artisanal Gold Council’s mission is and about my own vision for the improvement of the artisanal gold mining sector, I explain that it is mainly two simple things. First, it is about the improvement of the artisanal gold mining sector writ large so that it can better perform its role in delivering development to the rural poor, essentially helping the sector to deliver the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). And secondly, that the approach we use to do this, is professionalization, that we aim to professionalize the artisanal gold mining sector. In fact, professionalization of the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector (ASGM) is largely what the Artisanal Gold Council does. To draw attention to this approach, I have been using the tag lines: #ProfessionalizeASGM #ProfessionalizeArtisanalMining #ProfessionalizeGold

What does this really mean, to professionalize the artisanal gold mining sector, and why do it?

To begin with, there are many different pos…

The Media's demonization of the Artisanal Gold Mining sector isn't helping

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The Miami Herald in 2018 and now Buzzfeed and the NYT in 2019 have published, once again, the typical easy story on alluvial gold mining in the Amazon: The very simplistic and oft repeated "mining is bad" story. They cast a pall over any and all that are involved in artisanal mining. What they report is not entirely untrue, but it is far from representative of the vast world of artisanal mining in the 82 countries where it occurs. Worse though, is that stories like this damage the fragile peace that has been obtained between governments and artisanal miners the world over during the last decade. The peace has been largely brokered by the UN and the OECD with their initiatives on mercury pollution (the Minamata Convention) and transparency (Due Diligence in the Gold Supply Chain). Mostly what the UN and OECD have championed though, is recognition of the huge development opportunity the artisanal gold mining sector represents. Helping the sector become a responsible one contr…

National Endowments of Artisanal Gold - what can be done with them?

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As the price of gold rises, what opportunities are there for countries with artisanal gold mining sectors?

Here I am not talking about the miners but rather the countries that are endowed with deposits of artisanal gold. This is an interesting topic in the new context of rising gold prices and the emerging Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining sector (ASGM). The potential role of ASGM gold in the monetary system and the geopolitics behind central bank reserves is worth a thought.

Most of the major central banks have been accumulating gold over the last decade, with some like Russia and China doing so aggressively. So how does the artisanal gold sector fit in?

It does somehow! 

Artisanal gold represents US$20 billion per year of "reserve currency" (~500 tonnes) flowing out of 82 host countries. Its movements are not yet well tracked. If governments were able to collect a normal level of royalty (let alone corporate taxes) then they would have a "gold stream", which can …

What does 1500$ gold mean to the Artisanal Gold Mining Sector?

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What happens to the Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining sector (ASGM) when gold moves from 1200$ to 1500$ in less than a year? That is a 20% increase.

Its nature (largely unregulated subsistence labour) means it can respond quickly relative to the large scale industrial gold mining sector. Many short term needs are met overnight and that ripples down.

That could mean 20% more people could be employed in ASGM, which would mean 2 million more miners globally if the 10 million miners in 80 countries estimate is used as a basis. 10 million miners is the lowest estimate in the literature today.

Or it could mean the existing 10 million people have 20% more free cash. Either way it is a 4 to 5 billion USD windfall to the economy of the ASGM sector. That is about 8 million new Chinese motorcycles. Or its a mix of new motorcycles, more people, and more community wealth. It is about 3% of the global development assistance budget from all countries for all purposes.

Now obviously if the secto…

ASGM and Public Health

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The AGC helps miners improve their productivity and helps them to comply with minimal health, safety and environmental standards; this can facilitate the formalisation of their livelihoods, allowing them to increase their income in a safer way for both them and their communities. One of the ways in which the AGC does this is through educating health workers and miners on the risks of certain aspects of ASGM and providing ways to mitigate these risks, while at the same time as training miners on how to process their gold in a safer way, largely by using less or no mercury.  
For the vast majority of the millions of people who work in ASGM worldwide, labor conditions are substandard. There are multiple health risk factors that affect these populations; for example, acute accidents and injuries are common and chronic conditions resulting from exposure to toxins are prevalent, although rarely quantified. Moreover, ASGM communities typically have little to no access to education, health car…

Mercury Use in the Guinean ASGM Sector

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The ASGM sector in Guinea is vibrant, growing, and ripe with opportunity. If properly managed, it could create a much needed West African example of best practices in ASGM.

The Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) is engaged in a United Stated Department of State (USDoS) funded project focused on reducing mercury use in Francophone West Africa. The project currently is active in Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. Here we will discuss the interesting and unique approach to mercury use in Guinea, which differs from common practices seen in surrounding West African countries.

While traditional gold mining has occurred for centuries in Guinea, there has been significant growth in modern ASGM in recent years, including the introduction of mercury to amalgamate gold. 
The Guinean ASGM sector is less developed (delayed) compared with the longer standing activities of surrounding countries (for example in Mali), and this is reflected in a simplified, less mechanized ASGM sector, and interestingly, …

Mercury Free Gold Processing

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Using mercury amalgamation to separate gold particles from ore is not only dangerous to the health and environment of miners and their families but it is also inefficient. Recovery is an important aspect of efficiency in mining. It is a measurement of how much gold is split from the ore; how much gold goes to concentrate and how much goes to tailings.
In Cholito, Peru at our mercury free processing and training centre, the initial rate of recovery that miners were able to extract through mercury amalgamation was 30%-40%. This means almost half of their gold was lost to tailings! A waste of the resource at a great harm to the planet.(In comparison, most large scale gold mines maintain a recovery of over 98%.)

One of the most prominent roles of the AGC is to assist miners to improve their processing techniques and eliminate their use of mercury. The mercury free processing and training systems installed by the AGC are intuitive and easy to use since they are composed of technology the min…