Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM)

4. Importance to rural livelihoods and communities

Globally, the ASM sector has continued to grow significantly over the past couple of decades.

In 1993 when the earliest attempts to quantify the sector were made, six million people were estimated to work in ASM. 

In 1999, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated ASM directly employed 13 million people worldwide, with 80–100 million dependent on activities.

By 2014, studies suggested 20 to 40 million people, with an additional 100 million people dependent on the sector for their livelihood.

In 2017, a review of the existing literature commissioned by the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development estimated that over 40.5 million were working directly in the sector, with 150 million dependents.

Overall, these figures are very favourable in terms of the sector’s ability to create jobs, especially when compared to the approximately seven million employed directly by large-scale mining.

The continued and rapid growth of ASM activities worldwide is linked to a number of different factors, including:

  • High rates of youth unemployment, and a lack of equally well-paid and wealth creating employment opportunities in rural communities.
  • Periods of economic instability and related layoffs from large scale mining operations.
  • Commodity cycles of rising and falling global mineral prices, and in particular the significant increase in the price of gold over the past decade.
  • Instances of civil conflict where ASM activities can be a source of funding.
  • Greater demand from the electronics industry for minerals such as tin, tantalum, and tungsten, all of which are mined on a small-scale.

Multiplier effect and linkages to other sectors

It is generally recognised that for every person working directly in ASM, an additional three to five people are supported indirectly through work in associated industries and ancillary activities. These livelihoods include taxi drivers, mineral traders, buyers and refiners, shops, bars, food stalls and restaurants, local markets, equipment suppliers and farming inputs.

This multiplier effect often results in the local economies of entire towns and communities being built up around, and dependent upon, the sector as their main source of livelihood.

A key example of this multiplier effect is the strong linkages ASM has to farming in many rural communities. Often during low seasons in agriculture, farmers and labourers will turn to ASM to supplement their incomes. The higher returns from mining are then used to invest and support agricultural activities, leading to increased resilience and food security, and the potential for greater environmental stewardship as people need to maintain the quality of their land for farming, and the development of mutually beneficial livelihoods.