From our correspondent in Johannesburg,
With the price of gold continuing to remain very high, and while the West African region is among the richest gold-bearing areas behind Australia and Canada, the yellow metal attracts appetites, both large industrialists, but also millions of artisanal gold miners.
This often puts governments in a dilemma, according to Terry Heymann, chief financial officer of the World Gold Council (WGC). “ In many places where there are no other means of earning a living, people are turning to artisanal gold mining. But this type of exploitation is often synonymous with poor environmental practices, with the widespread use of mercury. And there are also social issues, with unsafe health and safety practices, and tensions that can emerge within communities.. »
Growing illegal activities
In addition, part of the mining rent escapes governments, because taxes on artisanal gold are rarely paid, and the flows, which are more difficult to trace, can in certain regions fuel illegal activities. B2Gold CEO Clive Johnson is also concerned about the extent of these practices.
« We have a big problem near the Falémé River, which marks the border between Mali and Senegal, an area close to our mine. There are small-scale, family-run artisanal miners. But there are also operations that have grown a lot, supported by major Chinese investments that bring in machines costing millions of dollars, and it is no longer for small-scale gold panning. The government of Mali is taking steps to curb this and we encourage it to do so.. »
Motivating artisanal miners to change their practice
The Canadian company would particularly like, according to Clive Johnson, to develop collaborations to help local artisanal miners better transform their ore, as several initiatives are already doing in Latin America. Because repressive responses will not solve the problems, according to Rachel Perks, specialist for the World Bank.
« If there is one thing to think about, it is what can motivate artisanal miners to change. Before, the solutions were to close sites, but now it’s about meeting the miners and their communities and working with mining associations, cooperatives, to address environmental issues, while allowing them to continue their activity. »
And the consequences can be dramatic if the sector is not supervised: just recently, in Burkina Faso, at least 10 people died in the collapse of an artisanal mine.