Surrey Business School

Improving the Sustainability of the Extractive Industries in sub-Saharan Africa

Surrey Business School's Professor Gavin Hilson’s recent work illustrates how many of the problems associated with mineral extraction and processing in sub-Saharan Africa such as environmental degradation, child labour and health and safety concerns are directly a result of its operations being heavily confined to the informal economy.

This research highlights the challenges with, and underscores the importance of, formalising artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – low-tech, labour intensive mineral extraction and processing – in sub-Saharan Africa.

For more than 15 years, Professor Gavin Hilson has carried out research on the environmental and social impacts of ASM in the region, as well as consulted on the subject for the donor community, private sector and NGOs. Professor Hilson’s recent work illustrates how many of the problems associated with the sector – environmental degradation, child labour and health and safety concerns – are directly a result of its operations being heavily confined to the informal economy. 

Professor Hilson’s research has also shown how, despite its largely informal state, ASM supports agriculture which has helped hundreds of thousands of families in rural sub-Saharan Africa build resilience and escape abject poverty.  He has carried out research in Ghana, Mali, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Liberia, Malawi and Tanzania. Findings from his research, which have yielded over 200 refereed papers, reports and book chapters, have been used to build a case for formalising and increasing support for ASM in sub-Saharan Africa. The expectation is that, in couching this work in the broad theme of resilience, it will speak to an international development agenda built around supporting subsistence agriculture and livelihoods.

The proposed impact case will enrich a dialogue on ASM formalisation with donors and NGOs that Professor Hilson has already kick-started and which, with the current support from the Impact and Engagement Fund, will further galvanise over the upcoming months, with increased participation from the World Bank and UNDP. 

He will continue to dialogue with the governments and policy makers of Ghana, Zambia, Malawi on ASM.

This research looks to expand dialogue on ASM to non-mining partners, beginning with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and stimulate interest among these parties on the need to formalise the sector.  The research will inform these parties on how doing so helps to sustain subsistence farming and ultimately, build resilience in rural sub-Saharan Africa.