Artisanal and Small Scale Mining

Artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) is a form of mineral extraction whereby individuals typically work independently with only small hand tools or basic machinery—and often outside of the formal legal framework and without regulatory oversight, to extract and sell minerals such as gold, silver, diamonds, and other precious gem stones. According to the World Bank’s Communities and Small Scale Mining (CASM) initiative, understanding the complex nature of ASM is critical to effectively implementing any measures to mitigate the negative and optimize the positive effects of these activities in the context of sustainable development.  

ASM is a complex web of issues; spanning policy and regulation, environment, human health, culture and society, and economics. Governmental responses to ASM are typically intended to mitigate the potential harmful effects of ASM to human health and the environment, improve the lives of individuals and communities engaged in ASM and living in poverty, and prevent instances of violence and armed conflict associated with ASM.  

Figure: How prevalent is ASM?

Figure source: Summarized from the International Institute for Environment and Development report Responding to Challenges of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining.

According to a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development, ASM is prevalent worldwide and can have a significant economic impact. For example, in the Central African Republic, two-thirds of its people are estimated to rely directly or indirectly on artisanal diamond mining and conservative estimates suggest it injects as much as $144.7 million into the economy. In Bolivia, mining makes up approximately 40 percent of current income from exports, 32 percent of which comes from ASM, with 85 percent of the mining sector’s total employment in small mining cooperatives and mines. Additionally, ASM is responsible for between 15 - 20 percent of global minerals and metals. Within this, the sector produces approximately 80 percent of all sapphires, 20 percent of all gold and up to 20 percent of diamonds.

Key Features of ASM

Figure source: Summarized from the International Institute for Environment and Development report Responding to Challenges of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining.

Challenges of ASM

Some of the inherent structural challenges facing artisanal mining include:

  • Governance: Weak legislation, policies, and implementation and other government marginalization or repression of miners, including political exclusion from decision-making; lack of legal protection for land and resource rights; generally poverty-driven decision-making with focus on the short-term, may cause or prolong social/armed conflict.
  • Societal Impacts: Reliance on mining in ASM communities due to vulnerability and marginalization based on culture or demographic group, with low barriers to entry into informal or illegal ASM with minimal health and social protections; associated uncontrolled migration of workers. Environmental hazards, such as mercury pollution, from ASM may have lasting effects in the area of mining and larger implications.
  • Lack of Information: There is limited baseline or census data on ASM workers and communities. Further, because much of ASM activities occur outside of the legal framework,   monitoring the supplies and revenue of ASM is particularly challenging and results in limited tax benefits for governments.

Key guidance and further information

OECD: The OECD issued guidance, “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains from Conflict-Affected and high Risk Areas,” as part of its efforts to further the responsible sourcing of minerals.
World Bank: The World Bank sponsored the Communities and small-Scale Mining (CASM) initiative. While the program has since ended, many of the documents may be found at The World Bank also partnered with Pact to develop DELVE, a platform for artisanal and small-scale mining data that was piloted in 2017. More information about this initiative can be found here
IPIS: The International Peace Information Service (IPIS) is an independent research institute that provides information, analysis, and capacity enhancement to support those actors who want to realize a vision of durable peace, sustainable development and the fulfillment of human rights. IPIS has published papers on ASM.
Washington Post: The Washington Post published an extensive multi-media article on cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.