Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM)

2. Drivers

There are a number of different factors that both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ people into the ASM sector. The most significant of these is poverty, with ASM being widely recognised as a poverty-driven activity, capable of alleviating economic hardship and promoting wealth creation in largely rural communities.

Poverty Trap

While ASM provides an income and potential route out of poverty, it can also keep miners and their families trapped in poverty.

This poverty trap is a result of low levels of technology and technical expertise, as well as poor geo-prospecting. This, in turn, leads to low productivity and recovery of mineral ores, as well as negative environmental and health impacts.

Poor health and bad working conditions combined with low returns often leads to a worsening of poverty. Unskilled and without the ability to invest in education or new technology, these people become trapped in poverty and remain in the sector for survival.

Other drivers of ASM include:

Push factors

  • As a safety net and source of employment for workers who may have been made redundant or temporarily laid off from large and medium sized mining companies during periods of low commodity prices and mothballed operations.

As a seasonal or transitional occupation due to periodic changes in weather and farming patterns, and annual college and university holidays. In rural communities, farming and mining are often complimentary livelihood activities.

  • People seeking economic refuge at times of economic, social, political, and agricultural crisis. In sub-Saharan Africa, widespread structural adjustment programmes in the 1980s, which included the removal of farm input subsidies and tens of thousands of workers losing their jobs almost overnight, have been linked to a dramatic increase in ASM activities.

Pull factors

  • At the most basic level, artisanal and small-scale mining can be undertaken with simple equipment and requires little or no skills especially if working as a labourer. ASM does not always need significant capital investment. These low barriers to entry therefore attract many different people to the sector.
  • People can be pulled into the sector seeking the opportunity to ‘get rich quick’ or as a result of mineral and gem discoveries, and/or high commodity prices triggering rush-type mining activities.
  • Some see ASM and related support services (such as equipment leasing) as entrepreneurial activities to invest and start business in.
  • As a largely informal and hidden sector, ASM can also be seen as a means to generate revenues for illicit and criminal activities, help fund and perpetuate conflict, and as a place to cover and/or embezzle other proceeds of crime.