Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining and Canada’s Post 2015 Development Priorities by Dr. Kevin Telmer

Canada and Artisanal Mining
Artisanal Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM), recognized as a huge development opportunity in 70+ countries by the world's international institutions, is playing a vital role in eradicating poverty for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. It is a remarkable sector that deeply touches Canada’s history and development. Artisanal mining played a significant role in creating wealth and economic diversity in early Canadian history (~1850 - 1930), and the evolution of that sector into Canada’s modern natural resources industry tells a good part of the story of the evolution of Canadian governance systems.  

Development and Artisanal Mining
ASGM, when done responsibly, fulfills Canada’s three cornerstones of sustainable development – social, economic, and environmental. For example, it can help reduce poverty for the world's poorest and most vulnerable, and especially for women and children. Moreover, supporting improvements in ASGM, particularly the transition of the informal sector into the formal economy greatly supports maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH). This transition also has strong linkages to improving governance and transparency.

An estimated 10 million workers support 100 million people through the 20 billion USD generated by ASGM annually. In terms of job creation and sustainable economic growth, ASGM, which has been somewhat ignored for decades, is now being recognized as an important grass roots private sector-led growth and job creation engine for the rural poor, driving poverty reduction.

The ASGM economy can grow even further and become more diversified through assistance and development. ASGM includes all the elements needed to create a strong investment climate, grow productive businesses, and build a skilled workforce. As an indicator of this, investment in ASGM meets the criteria for all seven types of Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs):

1. Negative/exclusionary screening,
2. Positive/best-in-class screening,
3. Norms-based screening,
4. Integration of ESG factors (environmental, social and governance),
5. Sustainability-themed investing,
6. Impact/community investing, and
7. Corporate engagement and shareholder action.

Investment in the sector can be screened against mercury and for traceability according to the norms of the Minamata Convention (mercury) and OECD and the Dodd Frank Act (traceability). This covers SRI types 1-3. It has integrated environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors because it improves environmental (mercury reduction, silicosis reduction, cyanide cleanup, reduction of deforestation), social, and governance performance of the artisanal mining sector. It is a sustainability-themed investment because it formalizes, stabilizes, enriches, and diversifies communities and community economics (including large remittances from the sector to other poor communities). It is very strongly an impact and community investment as it reduces mercury emissions globally and specifically for 100 million poor people in 70+ countries, and it directly improves their livelihoods. And it can easily be driven by corporate engagement and shareholder action. This is to some degree mandated for some institutions such as wealth funds, whose investments contain SRIs.

Clearly, ASGM, with appropriate assistance, can attract innovative financial mechanisms to promote inclusive growth, increased environmental sustainability, and accountability. This is important as it is recognized that financing needs for meeting the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are estimated to be in the trillions of dollars annually, far exceeding traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) volumes.

Canada’s Involvement in International Initiatives and ASGM
Two global initiatives that have played a strong role in bringing ASGM to the front of the global development agenda are the Minamata Convention on Mercury (a global environmental initiative of which Canada is a signatory) and the OECD’s due diligence guidance for the development of gold supply chains (a governance initiative which Canada has chaired). These initiatives help to ensure that assistance resources directed towards ASGM are focussed on realistic, achievable and measurable goals and targets. They also represent a strong global monitoring framework that leverages existing mechanisms - another aim for Canada’s development assistance.

In fact, ASGM touches essentially all of Canada’s post 2015 development priorities including the data revolution, and the cross-cutting priorities of child protection, empowerment of women and girls, health, and education. For example the ILO, with the support of the US Department of Labour, has just begun a multi-million dollar project on eliminating child labour in ASGM.

In addition to being applicable to these principal priorities, ASGM also involves the full spectrum of issues that make up the Post-2015 Development Agenda; (i) promoting peaceful and inclusive societies while addressing the underlying causes of instability and insecurity; (ii) inclusive, quality education whereby female and male learners from childhood to adulthood are able to acquire the skills and knowledge that they will need to make a positive contribution to their families, communities, economic growth and poverty reduction.  ASGM strongly supports this through the large remittances that it sends back to home communities; (iii) the sustainable and responsible management of land, forests, energy, minerals, biodiversity, water and agriculture. ASGM development assistance is clearly aligned with these important sustainable development issues.

How is Canada Currently Engaging with ASGM?
To its great credit, Canada has leapt out front of other countries and taken a globally significant leadership role in assisting with the improvement of the ASGM sector. For example, the Canadian based Artisanal Gold Council (AGC), a world-renowned leader in innovative ASGM development and key participant in the Minamata Convention and OECD supply chain initiative, has designed projects worldwide to address Canada's priorities as follows:

Stimulating sustainable economic growth
Job creation – by making available necessary knowledge and technological resources to increase ASGM productivity, combined with provisions for social protection.

Supporting rural development – ASGM adds value to rural livelihood through direct income generation by increasing productivity as well as increasing or supporting allied services and business within the ASGM community.

Improving legal/regulatory frameworks – linking national to provincial development plans to Minamata Convention obligations, will help ensure consistent and predictable ASGM priorities and framework, which can include supporting formalization efforts, prioritization on health, looking at market approaches to support the sector, among others.

Supporting government and private sector (miners, gold traders) to expand their business and integrate into regional and global markets.

Strengthening support for micro, small and medium-sized private sector businesses, particularly those owned by women.

Health and rights of women and children
The AGC projects introduce mercury-free technologies in gold processing. The introduction of and AGC’s efforts to sustain the transition can dramatically reduce mercury exposure of women, men, and children in ASGM communities. The impact to both direct and secondary exposure is immediate.

Environmental Sustainability / Climate Change
The AGC looks to mitigate such impacts through reducing deforestation, water recycling, preventing releases of wastewater or tailings into rivers, and eliminating the toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide in production processes in the ASGM sector.  

Addressing climate change also requires finding practices that use resources wisely and efficiently.  Best-practices in land use and water management will be implemented at AGC project areas in order to reduce impacts to land and forests, improve water recycling and conservation, and prevent the release of gases into the atmosphere and wastewater into the environment. In addition, technical interventions will aim to obtain better land productivity extracting a greater percentage of gold from ores, with no toxic chemicals thus creating more wealth while greatly reducing waste.

Gender Equality
Gender inequality is a long-standing issue that is linked with poverty. Unfortunately, gender issues surrounding ASGM are still largely untouched and unexamined.  AGC projects work on the principle that women play an integral role in promoting sustainable approaches to natural resource management.  They are consumers, producers, and users of natural resources, and they are educators and caretakers of their families.  Environmental sustainability through improved natural resource management and conservation will be elusive without women’s contribution to environmental management.

In this regard, the AGC conducts gender-mapping studies in all of its project areas in order to identify critical gaps and challenges that women miners face in the decision-making process in the community as well as meaningful engagement in work. The projects also train and create spaces for women in the project areas to aid them in working in the responsible gold supply chain.

The AGC projects support better governance systems by helping ASGM miners formalize and attain an effective voice in ASGM governance systems. In addition, AGC sees the need to train the miners in improving their organizational skills through training and providing them an avenue to participate in provincial and national meetings that impact the ASGM sector, in particular the development of Indonesia’s National Action Plan on ASGM.

Increasing Food Security
Land degradation continues to hamper soil productivity and ecological functions (UNEP, 2012). Loss of soil productivity directly impacts food security.  The United Nations Environment Programme has identified several steps to address issues of food security, among which are: increasing food production and addressing land degradation (UNEP, 2012).

Engaging small-scale miners and teaching them responsible and best mining practices can minimize the land degradation. Opportunities for land rehabilitation as well as practical remediation techniques can further address land degradation issues caused by the sector.

To Conclude
The intersection of Canada’s historical experience with artisanal mining, its modern natural resources industry, and its priorities for development assistance make Canada a natural leader in supporting the improvement of the modern global artisanal mining sector, assisting it to reach its full development potential. For more information on our projects and how you can help, check out, and follow us on Facebook, Youtube, Google + and Twitter.


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