Given that the ASM sector is the biggest mining player on the planet, Darracq Shawe asks whether it’s time we treated it as that
Despite its name, the artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) community employs the largest mining force in the world. According to a new report by global platform Delve, every day, almost 45 million miners pick up tools in 80 countries around the globe. In addition, 2019 figures from the World Bank suggest that another 134 million people rely on the ASM sector for their economic wellbeing. These figures are only set to rise too, with a new ‘3T’ (tantalum coltan/tin cassiterite/tungsten wolframite) rush predicted in the years ahead to cater to the world’s new obsession for electric mobility and the batteries to power it.
Even with these impressive numbers and the obvious potential for growth, innovations in the ASM sector remain few and far between. Much of the industry operates in a somewhat opaque manner. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as the study also suggests that improvement in terms of health and safety in the ASM sector is likely an easy fix. Back in 1999, a report found that mortality and accident rates in the ASM sector were on par with those of US and South African miners in the 1970s. Today, however, the fatality rate in the industrial mining sector is near zero. This only goes to show what a difference technology, legislation, and public opinion can make. If the same bodies applied the same ideas to the ASM sector, common sense tells us that the safety levels will rise at a similar rate.
Another bit of good news highlighted in the report, which was co-authored by Delaware University, involves the ASM’s positive contributions to the global economy. Even without a formal structure, the ASM industry provides many benefits to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In no particular order, the report found that small scale mining made a positive impact on the following areas: economic development; clean energy; infrastructure and sustainable cities; adaption to climate change; peace, justice, and governance; partnerships; and social programmes.
Of course, the report found some negative impacts too, but these were limited to a small number of sustainable development goals, namely: human health; environment; social development; cleaner production; and nutrition.
A Shining Light
Altogether, there is too much negativity associated with small-scale mining, but one of the few bright lights in the murky depths of the ASM sector is the Miniveyor ore haulage system from Miniveyor Products. As the name suggests, Miniveyor is a small-scale conveyor system that allows small mining organisations to scale up their operations, lessen their environmental impact and make the most of their ore.
By lowering labour costs, reducing their environmental footprint, and amplifying yield, the system helps small operations become more efficient, productive, and profitable. Alongside the obvious commercial improvements, the introduction of the Miniveyor system allows for a much safer and generally more sustainable method of extraction compared to those used in traditional small-scale artisanal hard rock mining operations.
The benefits of low-cost, portable localised logistics are obvious. Miners can retrieve far more ore in a much shorter time and, thanks to its modular design, the system can help them reach hard to access areas without the need to destroy local habitats to improve access.
A New Partnership
Now that Miniveyor has laid the groundwork and demonstrated a commitment to improving the ASM sector, a new partnership with the British company, Shondilo Gold Mining Ventures, intends to capitalise on that success and offer project management and consulting services to small-scale operations looking to make the leap to the next level. With vast experience in the ASM marketplace, the Shondilo team is ideally placed to help raise standards across the board and assist ambitious operators to achieve the recognition and growth they deserve.
For too long the world has treated the artisanal and small-scale mining industry like some street urchin and not like the global concern it has grown to become. Shondilo aims to break that stigma and even the playing field for all players in the mining world.
We all know the world’s hunger for precious metals is growing and it’s time the biggest player was invited to the table. With a little guidance, respect, and common sense, the ASM sector can match the health and safety and sustainability standards of the corporate sector and help pull millions out of poverty in the process.
Shondilo will continue its efforts to assist small mining operations in any way it can. Whether that help comes in the form of new technology such as Miniveyor or targeted project management, business advice and consultancy services is a moot point; the fact is it aims to help. Other organisations, companies and even governments are also showing similar commitments to helping the ASM get its feet out of the mire. So, isn’t it time we started treating this exciting industry with the respect it deserves?
Darracq Shawe is director of Miniveyor Products