Published: 29 January 2021

Research into Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Sub-Saharan Africa helps shape policy to protect workers

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) creates income-earning opportunities for hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), both directly and indirectly through the upstream and downstream industries it spawns.  

The revenue it generates also sustains agriculture through the region, in turn stabilising food security for numerous households. The sector’s importance is often overlooked by the region’s policymakers however, because most of its activities are found in the informal economy. A combination of bureaucratic procedures linked to obtaining licenses and operating illegally, costly permitting fees and a shortage of vacant mineralised land, has fuelled the rapid growth of the informal ASM economy across SA.

Ongoing research conducted by Professor Gavin Hilson on ‘Formalising Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Sub-Saharan Africa’ draws attention to these impediments to formalisation, as well as what implications operating without the requisite permits have for individual operators. 

His programme of research and stakeholder engagement challenges the approaches being taken to formalise ASM in SSA, highlighting the obsolete nature of policy frameworks and legislation designed to legalise and ultimately safeguard the rights of operators. Unmonitored and unsupported, ASM activities continue to progress along an unsustainable development path, along which operators are denied access to social and financial support, work under precarious conditions, and are forced to deprioritise environmental concerns.

Professor Hilson’s research builds a case for formalising ASM in SSA, and identifies strategies for achieving this through work on the following four topics:      

  • Demonstrating the social and economic importance of ASM in SSA
  • Showing how ASM operates and is organised in the informal economy in SSA
  • Identifying the drivers of ASM’s informality in SSA
  • Embedding ASM in the region’s development policy, foremost interventions linked to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Professor Hilson uses findings from his research to engage and empower stakeholders capable of effecting changes on the ground that are needed to make ASM formalisation a reality. In doing so, he engages donors and host governments with a view to facilitating the policy changes needed to make licensing and formalisation more operator-friendly.   

His work, to date, has had significant impact, shaping the policy architecture for ASM across SSA, underpinning major interventions such as the €13 million UN/ACP/EU Development Minerals Programme, The World Bank’s DELVE platform, a formalisation guide for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) now being implemented in Ghana, and influencing the execution of national ASM programmes through capacity building and direct support for miner-led community organisations in Ghana and Mali. 

For more information on the research please contact Read more about our research and other case studies here

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