Artisanal and small-scale mining (“ASM”) is mining typically done by rural people with basic or semi-mechanized mining methods. Imagine the gold-panners of California or Canada’s “wild west”; those were artisanal and small-scale miners. ASM has been occuring in some countries for hundreds of years (Ghana), others for thousands (Sri Lanka), and in others for just a few decades (Sierra Leone or Madagascar). In some cases, artisanal miners can be part-time miners and part time farmers. In other cases, mining may be their primary occupation. In others, artisanal mining might be a desperation activity, such as for people experiencing famine, war, or economic collapse; ASM can offer quick cash needed for food, shelter, school fees, unexpected expenses, etc. Both men and women mine and can work diverse roles on a mine site. Child labor is a well-documented phenomenon in ASM, occurs for diverse reasons, and requires diverse strategies.
ASM is often overlooked because it is often part of the informal sector. However, despite its low profile, at 30 million people worldwide in 70 countries (from Peru to Brazil, Vietnam to Mongolia, Liberia to Mozambique), it represents 90% of the global mining workforce. It is estimated to produce 10-20% of annual gold production, up to 15% of diamonds, and 80% of colored gems (emeralds, rubies, sapphires, etc.), 20-25% of mined tin and tantalum, amongst many other minerals. ASM impacts a variety of industries, from jewelers to ICT manufacturers, among other sectors.
Vlassenroot, K. & Van Bockstael, S. (eds), 2010. Artisanal diamond mining: Perspectives and Challenges. Published by the Egmont Institute. Belgium: Academia Press. 288pps.
Villegas, C., Weinberg, R., Levin, E., and Hund, K., 2012. Artisanal and Small-scale Mining in Protected Areas and Critical Ecosystems: A Global Solutions Study. Published by Estelle Levin Ltd. and the World Wildlife Fund. Available at: http://www.asm-pace.org and http://www.estellelevin.com.