Crops, stones and secure homes: building rural resilience through diversified income-earning in sub-Saharan Africa
Abundant research has been undertaken which captures the inseparable linkages between subsistence agriculture and ASM–low-tech mineral extraction/processing–across SSA. Both activities sustain millions of the region’s poverty-stricken households, the former being increasingly viewed by families as a source of food and the latter, as a source of disposable income.
Donors and policymakers, however, have generally downplayed this link, chiefly because most of the region’s ASM activities are found in the informal economy. But the emergence of the SDGs and a climate change agenda in SSA which prioritizes food security, gender equality, adaptation and rural resilience has legitimized and put this link into the spotlight.
This research explores how income from ASM assists vulnerable farm-dependent families cope with climate-induced shocks and stresses. Specifically, it will generate qualitative and quantitative data which capture how vulnerable families use income from ASM to build resilience in drought-prone sections of Malawi, Mali and Liberia.
An introduction to ASM in Sub-Saharan Africa
All ASM sites in sub-Saharan Africa are very different, populated by unique groups of actors, each with his/her own story about how and why they started working in the sector. A sizable share of those currently engaged in ASM in the region, however, chose to do so because of poverty. Many have since skilfully used the earnings they have accumulated from this work to diversify their income portfolios. Moreover, and as verified by a burgeoning body of literature that has emerged over the past decade, ASM dovetails farming in many corners of sub-Saharan Africa, the former generating income which is used to purchase crucial agricultural inputs and to hire the labour needed to stabilize and in many cases sustain the latter.
Significantly, with there being a potential food security linkage here that has not yet been unpacked critically, there may be an opportunity to rewrite the narrative on ASM in sub-Saharan Africa in a way that resonates far more powerfully with donors, governments and the general public es. It is no secret that messages such as ‘people engage in ASM because of poverty and ‘ASM is an important source of livelihood’ has had a limited impact on a development policy agenda dominated by a discussion that focuses on the sector’s environmental impacts and social ‘ills’ such as child labour and health and safety concerns. Efforts that attempt to insert ASM into dialogue around food security, climate change and resilience, however, promise to have a major impact. Data that shed light on the links between ASM, agriculture and food security and which nuance how these impact specific occupants of the rural household, namely women, the youth and other vulnerable groups, are key to changing the rhetoric about the sector. The view here is that doing so would provide renewed impetus in donor and policymaking circles to formalize the sector.
In what follows, facts are shared about the state of poverty, food security and ASM in the three study countries of Liberia, Mali and Malawi. In each of these three countries, which are poor even by African standards, intensified support for ASM could provide a much-needed route out of poverty for millions of families, who, since the onset of the pandemic, have suffered tremendously.
Liberia Map and Facts
- Poverty remains widespread in Liberia and is now on the rise. An estimated 44% of Liberians were living with less than $2 a day in 2016 and is now projected to reach 52% in 2021. Access to healthcare, education, and basic utilities such as electricity, are also particularly low compared to the rest of the region.
- In 2016, more than 2.2 million Liberians were unable to meet their basic food needs, of which almost 1.5 million (68%) resided in rural areas, 1.6 million were below the food poverty line, and 670,000 lived in extreme poverty.
- Regional and urban-rural disparities in poverty rates widened during the Ebola crisis and the collapse of global commodity prices.
- The economy contracted by 2.3% in 2019 on the back of weak consumption and output.
- The burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic poses a major threat to the economy. Under the baseline scenario, real GDP is projected to contract by 2.6% in 2020 due to the effects of COVID-19 on output across multiple sectors, especially services and manufacturing.
- The government’s fiscal position deteriorated significantly in FY2019. The fiscal deficit widened from 4.8% of GDP in FY2018 to 6.1% in FY2019, while the primary deficit rose from 4.2% of GDP to 5.4 %.
- Public expenditures rose by about 8% in nominal terms or about 4 percentage points of GDP. Liberia’s total public debt stock reached 52.4% of GDP.
- Liberia’s current account deficit narrowed to 22.1% of GDP in 2019 from 23.5% in 2018.
- Liberia is classified as a least developed, low-income, food-deficit country.
- It ranks 176 out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index.
- Poverty and food insecurity are high across the country and are particularly acute in Liberia’s rural areas where 51 per cent of the population lives. Some 83.8% of the population live on less than US$1.25 a day.
- Liberia is a least-developed, low-income country with 51% of its estimated 4.5 million people living in poverty.
- A 2015 emergency food security assessment found that food insecurity affects 16% of households, including 2% that are severely food insecure.
- For one-fourth of Liberian families, food accounts for more than 65% of their total expenditures. Some 18% of households were found to be using emergency coping strategies (mostly begging) to meet their food needs.
- Among the major underlying causes of poverty and food insecurity in Liberia is the low level of access to education, with official statistics showing only 26.7% of children were enrolled in school in 2014. The 2014-15 Ebola outbreak had a devastating effect on Liberia’s children: schools had to stay closed for most of the year to curb the spread of the disease.
- Some 80% of the population depends on fish for protein. Management and harvesting of marine sources, however, are now threatened by rising sea levels and coastal flooding due to climate change.
- The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and investment. Income from exports, mainly of natural resources, is not currently sufficient to support the population’s development needs. Agriculture is focused mainly on the cultivation of food crops and export commodities. Livestock farming is small-scale, poorly resourced, and unable to meet local demand for meat.
- As of December 2015, Liberia hosted almost 39,000 refugees, primarily Ivorians who fled their country during the 2010 post-electoral crisis. Those who live in camps are especially food insecure and vulnerable to food price fluctuations. In December 2015 UNHCR began a voluntary repatriation exercise after Côte d’Ivoire reopened its borders. As of mid-February 2016, approximately 6,000 refugees had been repatriated.
- Gold, iron ore and diamonds are widespread; new gold and iron mines opened in 2011.
- Ther are known targets for diamonds, base metals, manganese, bauxite, fluorspar and kyanite.
- Geology of Liberia poorly known, with little exploration for most mineral commodities.
- Currently, there are 1293 mining operations in the country (MLME 2010), of which 1142 (88.3%) are ASM, 65 (5%) are medium size, 78 (6%) are exploration companies, and 8 (0.6%) are large-scale enterprises.
- The ASM are also involved in the extraction of gold and diamond. However, the development of these ASM operations is limited because it lacks resources and infrastructure.
- There is a long history of artisanal gold mining in Liberia from alluvial placers with production peaking at more than 30,000 oz per annum in the 1940s.
- Between 2010 and 2015 annual production is estimated at about 18,500 oz per annum (BGS, 2017).
- Nearly 600 gold occurrences were recorded by the USGS in Liberia, with gold placer deposits accounting for almost 80 per cent of the total (Wahl, 2007).
- Gold remains the focus of most mineral exploration activity in Liberia today. Current licences are widely distributed over both the Archaean and Proterozoic terranes, focus on major regional shear zones and belts of known alluvial gold.
- In Liberia, diamonds are produced solely by artisanal miners from alluvial placers located in the west and central parts of the country.
- Liberia has a long history of alluvial diamond production, with an aggregate output of about 14 million carats during the last 50 years.
- Output from small-scale operations peaked at about 600,000 carats per annum during the early part of the 1970s.
- Historic diamond production was tarnished by its association with conflict in the region. Export sanctions imposed by the United Nations in an attempt to end illicit diamond mining in Liberia depressed diamond production between 2002 and 2007.
- In 2007 Liberia became a Kimberley Process participant and, since then, diamond production has risen to approximately 74,000 carats in 2015.
- Reporting of diamond production is compulsory under the Kimberley Process. However, production figures are not guaranteed to represent the entire production of diamonds in the country due to the artisanal nature of the mining.
Mali Map and Facts
- Mali, a vast Sahelian country, is a low-income economy that is undiversified and vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations.
- Its rapid population growth (a fertility rate of 5.88 children per woman in 2018 and climate change pose a threat to agriculture and food security.
- The extreme poverty rate, which stood at 47.2% between 2011 and 2015 owing to the security crisis, fell to 42.3% in 2019 as a result of record levels of agricultural production since 2014.
- The 2020 health, security, social, and political crises have led to a 5% increase in poverty. Some 90% of the country's poverty is concentrated in the densely populated rural areas of the south.
- The pandemic and sociopolitical crisis resulting from the coup have tipped Mali into an economic recession. Real GDP is estimated to have contracted by 2% in 2020, reflecting the decline in global demand, supply challenges, and domestic restrictions.
- There is an estimated production of 20 metric tons of gold from artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM)
- Manual mining and panning of gold employ an estimated 400,000 people, including migrants from neighbouring countries, women, and the youth.
- The ASM occupation is regulated by the mining law, but ASM workers often operate in the informal sector and rarely follow the requirements of the law.
- The modus operandi is often inefficient and environmentally destructive.
- Revenues generated from the activity follow informal channels to avoid paying taxes. The ASM activity is also associated with significant social, safety, health, and environmental problems and risks.
- It is a source of alternative employment for the youth in rural areas. Sometimes ASM workers encroach on mining concessions held by large-scale investors, creating the possibility of tensions and conflict with mining companies. There are also children, some of whom are of school age.
- Women are relegated to low-pay occupations: supply of goods in the mines, upkeep of children, and up to 90% of the panning of alluvial gold. Many women work as temporary helpers for different groups of miners
- The cumulative effects of frequent drought, armed violence and widespread insecurity have contributed to a progressive deterioration of livelihoods in the country.
- Poverty is on the rise, affecting 78.1% of people, and food insecurity levels are twice as high in families headed by women– a reflection of widespread gender inequalities.
- Agriculture – mainly in the form of subsistence production – represents 80% of employment. However, land degradation, lack of fertilizers, post-harvest losses due to poor storage and processing capacity, and limited access to markets contribute to smallholder farmers suffering from higher-than-average poverty rates.
- Malnutrition in its various forms exacts a high human and economic. Stunting affects 30.4% of children under 5.
- The Cost of Hunger study carried out in 2018 estimated the annual loss in economic productivity due to malnutrition at US$ 145 million, equivalent to a reduction of 4.06% in the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
- More than 4.3 million people required humanitarian assistance in 2020.
- Every year since the 2012 crisis, 3.6 million people (18% of the population) on average, experience food insecurity, including 600,000 people severely affected. Food insecurity varies from one region to another with the north and central regions (Gao, Mopti, Timbuktu) particularly affected.
- The World Food Programme (WFP) in Mali maintains the capacity to respond to emergency needs while it increases its focus on developing government capacity to prepare for and respond to emergencies and fostering enhanced resilience.
- In accordance with WFP’s Global COVID-19 Response Plan and the Government’s national plan to respond to the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, WFP is continuing to ensure the provision of life-saving food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance, supporting the humanitarian and health responses at the national level, and helping the Government to strengthen national capacity to monitor and analyse vulnerability and risk.
- In July 2018, the World Bank approved US$172 million of International Development Association (IDA)* financing to improve agricultural productivity and the resilience of drylands communities, foster inclusive growth and support social protection in Mali.
- These projects will help the country accelerate poverty reduction efforts by improving sources of income and reducing the vulnerability of some of the poorest families. They will contribute to the World Bank's twin goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. These projects will support the improvement of agricultural productivity and the resilience of targeted rural populations,
- The approved program of support comprises the following projects:
- The Mali Second Poverty Reduction and Inclusive Growth Development Policy Operation
- The Mali Drylands Development Project combines a set of interventions that could help reduce the impact of drought and climate change
- The Mali Safety Nets Project (Jigisemejiri) received additional financing of $52.0 million through an IDA grant.
Mali: Images from the field
Malawi: Map and Facts
- Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite making significant economic and structural reforms to sustain economic growth. Poverty and inequality remain stubbornly high.
- The latest poverty figures show the national poverty rate increased slightly from 50.7% in 2010 to 51.5% in 2016, but extreme national poverty decreased from 24.5% in 2010/11 to 20.1% in 2016/17.
- Poverty is driven by low productivity in the agriculture sector, limited opportunities in non-farm activities, volatile economic growth, rapid population growth, and limited coverage of safety net programs and targeting challenges.
- The economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, employing nearly 80% of the population, and it is vulnerable to external shocks, particularly climatic shocks.
- The COVID-19 crisis is increasing poverty, particularly in urban areas, where the services and industry sectors have been hit hard.
- A weak rebound is expected in the services and industry sectors in 2021 while international tourism is unlikely to return to previous levels in the short term.
- The pandemic is also disproportionally affecting human capital investment in poor households, reducing future intergenerational income mobility.
- The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), a series of five-year plans, guide the country’s development.
- The current MGDS III, Building a Productive, Competitive and Resilient Nation, will run through 2022 and focuses on education, energy, agriculture, health and tourism.
- In January 2021, the Government launched the Malawi 2063 Vision that aims at transforming Malawi into a wealthy and self-reliant industrialized ‘upper middle- income country.
- Malawi’s economy has been heavily impacted by COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Growth is estimated at 1.0% for 2020, compared with earlier projections of 4.8%, but is projected to rebound in 2021 to 2.8%.
- The second wave of the pandemic has been more intense than the first. The COVID-19 vaccine is not expected to reach a significant portion of the population until at least mid-2022. As such, stronger social distancing policies and behaviour are expected to weigh on economic activity and suppress domestic demand.
- Given a widening fiscal deficit, the stock of public debt has continued to increase, largely driven by high-cost domestic debt.
- Malawi’s challenges are also compounded by high rates of HIV infection (at 9.6%), low primary school completion rate (at 51%) and chronic under-nutrition (at 37% for children under 5).
- The annual cost of child undernutrition in Malawi was estimated in 2015 as equivalent to 10.3% of GDP, or USD 597 million.
- Malawi’s food security is generally defined in terms of adequate production of and access to maize, the country’s staple crop.
- Maize is grown by over 90% of farm households and accounts for 60% of calorie consumption.
- 80% of smallholder farmers are net buyers of maize. Their purchase of maize is hindered by high import prices, largely a reflection of Malawi’s landlocked geography and poor road network. One in three households fails to meet its daily per capita caloric requirement. Even despite recent bumper crops of maize, acute and chronic food insecurity are major challenges faced by the people and government of Malawi.
- The cost of disasters affects both communities and national finances. More than 922,900 people were impacted by tropical Cyclone Idai in March 2019, and about 288,371 houses were damaged across the 15 affected districts. Of the houses affected by the floods, 89% were constructed with sub-standard materials and did not comply with adequate building standards. The total cost of damage to the housing sector was estimated at $106.6 million.
- In recent years, the Government of Malawi has made significant efforts to strengthen its building regulatory environment to enable the construction of safer, healthier, and more resilient buildings. The government has updated its institutional and legislative tools for resilience, drafting the country’s first National Building Regulations, developing Safer House Construction Guidelines, and reforming laws related to land use. The World Bank has supported these and other efforts through different projects, including the Malawi Floods Emergency Recovery Project and the Disaster Risk Management Development Policy Financing with a Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option (Cat DDO).
- Building on these projects, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery’s (GFDRR) Building Regulation for Resilience (BRR) Program has developed a diagnostic assessment of the country’s building regulatory framework to support the government in strengthening compliance with safety standards for land use and construction. The findings of the assessment are highlighted in Managing Risks for A Safer Built Environment in Malawi, a new report funded by GFDRR. The report lays out a cost-effective path to improve building safety and resilience across the country, highlighting a regulatory system tailored to the local context.
- The report identifies that Malawi does not currently have legislation or policy in place to define the government’s responsibility for regulating buildings.
- Also, local enforcement agencies in both rural and urban areas lack the staffing and technical capacity to provide oversight for safe siting and construction of buildings.
- The priority activities are completing a policy for buildings, updating and finalizing the National Building Regulations, and strengthening the capacity of local council planning, building and fire departments.
- An extended reform effort is necessary to enhance the long-term safety, productivity and resilience of the built environment and the time to act is now—when the country is still urbanizing at a moderate rate of approximately 3.9% per year.
- Malawi remains one of the least urbanized countries in Africa, with about 16.7% of the population living in urban areas. However, this is expected to increase to around 20% by 2030 and is expected to reach 30% by 2050.
- Malawi can take advantage of its moderate rate of urbanization by starting to implement plans that will maximize the benefits of a safe and healthy urban agglomeration in the future, building towards the safety of its people. Promoting safe standards for land use and construction can contribute to reducing the vulnerability of the country to natural disasters and chronic health risks.
- Building code design and land use requirements are used worldwide to promote standards of safety and public hygiene in the built environment, by, for example, maintaining practical principles of physical distance between densely populated areas linked with public health risks and exposure. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, building regulatory reforms play an important role for cities building back better policies, programs and initiatives.
- In Malawi, ASM activities have grown considerably in recent years and are a source of livelihood for many families in rural areas.
- In 2016, it was estimated that there were about 25,000 in Malawi with 65% licenced ones and some are unaccounted for though by 2018 there are about 40,000 of them.
- Reports of a gold rush have emerged in various districts, including Mangochi, Lilongwe, Balaka, and lately in Kasungu.
- ASM is characterized by people with low literacy levels, who use traditional tools (low-tech) and use methods fuelled by lack of capital, and deficiency of basic knowledge of mining and geology.
Malawi: Images from the field
Gavin is a leading global authority on the environmental and social impacts of the small-scale mining sector. He has published over 300 journal articles, book chapters and reports on the subject, his specialist knowledge widely recognized internationally. He has delivered talks on small-scale mining at United Nations headquarters in New York, the World Bank in Washington DC and several universities worldwide.
He has also provided consultancy services on the subject for a range of organizations: the UK Department for International Development, World Bank and EGMONT (Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels); the NGO sector, including the Alliance for Responsible Mining and the WWF Guianas; and corporations such as Newmont Gold Mining and Gold Fields.
Gavin is editor-in-chief of The Extractive Industries and Society (Elsevier Science), and is on the editorial boards of The Journal of Cleaner Production (Elsevier Science), Resources Policy (Elsevier Science), Mineral Economics (Springer) and The International Journal of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Environment (Taylor & Francis). He is also an executive board member of the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI), an NGO established to improve awareness and eliminate circulation of 'conflict diamonds'.
Mahdi is a lecturer (assistant professor) in the Surrey Business School. He received his PhD in Business Studies (Strategic Management) from IE Business School, Madrid. He also holds a Master in Research Methodology in Management Science, an MBA in Strategy, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics. Before joining Surrey, he was adjunct lecturer at IE university and European School of Economics, Madrid, visiting research fellow at Bocconi University, Milan, and worked as a project management professional in Iran.
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