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Small-scale mining

GEUS - Internationale udviklingsprojekter. Small-scale mining

Small-scale mining

Small-scale gold miner in Kyrgyzstan

Small-scale gold miner in the Kyrgyzstan.

Small-scale mining (SSM) is an activity that is increasingly gaining momentum in many parts of the World. International Labour Organisation estimate that 100 million people depend on small-scale mining and about 20 people are active small-scale miners. SSM is largely practiced in rural areas by artisans who lack the requisite education, training, management skills and essential equipment. Very often the mining activities are done haphazardly with severe consequences to the surrounding environment and the health of the persons involved.

One of the main environmental and health hazards caused by small-scale mining is the widespread release of mercury. Mercury is used in extraction of gold and is in most cases released directly to the environment. The released mercury enters the drainage system and the food chain and ends up in humans where it causes multiple problems.

Notwithstanding the negative environmental and health effects, significant economic benefits to be reaped from SSM activities have recently been recognized by several Asian and African countries. Indeed, the potential of the sector to contribute significantly to socio-economic development is great. Such contributions include the decisive role it can play in:

  • Poverty alleviation, especially in rural areas
  • Reducing rural-urban migration, especially for the unemployed youth
  • Addressing gender issues
  • Maintaining the vital link between people and the land
  • Addressing the issue of child labour
  • Creating alternative economic activities
  • Contributing to national income; and
  • Contribute to state revenues.
GEUS has worked with small-scale mining related problems since 1999 in Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and the Philippines. The main focus of GEUS' work has been to teach and train small-scale miners in recycling mercury instead of releasing the metal to the environment. Recently GEUS has launced a project concept with two main components:
  1. Teaching and training of small-scale miners in reducing release toxic compounds especially mercury to the environment during extraction of gold.
  2. Teaching and training of medical doctors and medical personnel in more efficient diagnosing of mercury poisoning.
  3. Teaching and training of small-scale miners in gold extraction techniques not involving mercury.
    Of particular importance is the so-called borax technique developed in Benguet area North of Manila, in the Philippines. Gold extraction with borax makes mercury redundant in small-scale mining.

Teaching and training of small-scale miners in Mongolia.

Small-scale gold miner in Tanzania.

Small-scale gold miner in the Philippines.
Small-scale mining (SSM)