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Digital Subscriptions > Rock&Gem Magazine > May 2019 > Artisanal Mining

Artisanal Mining

It’s Dangerous, Illegal, Undocumented—and Booming

An artisanal miner in the Democratic Republic of the Congo displays a piece of heterogenite, the ore of cobalt. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Beryl is among the mineral specimens recovered by artisanal miners. (STEVE VOYNICK)

Coltan mining in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has attracted thousands of artisanal miners. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Artisanal miners are defined as subsistence miners who operate independently or in small groups, most often illegally, to produce minerals by manual or minimally mechanized recovery methods.

This definition might suggest that artisanal mining has little economic consequence. But 40 million artisanal miners in 80 nations account for roughly 20 percent of the current global output of gold, diamonds, tantalum, tin, and cobalt, and 80 percent of mercury and sapphires. The targets of most artisanal miners are such minerals as gold, diamonds, corundum (sapphires), cinnabar, cassiterite, sulfur, heterogenite, malachite, and the columbite-tantalite mineral series.

An estimated 36 million artisanal miners work in Africa and Asia, with an additional 4 million in Latin America. Collectively, artisanal mining produces $25 billion in minerals each year, provides a subsistence living for some 100 million miners and their dependents, and is often the economic base of entire regions. But artisanal mining is also dirty, dangerous, and physically exhausting.

Middlemen and dealers claim most of the profits, leaving miners trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. Health and safety regulations are nonexistent, child labor is common, and environmental degradation is rampant. And because most artisanal mining is undocumented and illegal, governments receive no tax revenues. Nevertheless, artisanal-miner numbers have quadrupled in the last 20 years, not because of any realistic chance to strike it rich, but because of soaring mineral prices coupled with the increasing difficulty of earning a living in agriculture and other traditional rural activities. For tens of millions of people, mainly in poverty-stricken, undeveloped regions, artisanal mining is the only alternative to abject poverty.

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Rock & Gem May 2019, Volcanic Views : Remnants of Eruptions, Artisanal Mining : A Complex Industry, HEMATITE : An Influential Mineral Iron Ore, And More.....