INVESTMENT

EcoCentric puts on hold mining partnership project over Covid-19

The firm works closely with artisanal mining communities

In Summary

• The partnership between EcoCentric and artisanal and small-scale mining communities is aimed at unlocking access to improved mercury-free mining equipment.

• Mining activities are reported to have reduced.

EcoCentric team at a mercury-free gold processing site in Narok County/COURSETY
EcoCentric team at a mercury-free gold processing site in Narok County/COURSETY

Mining consultancy firm -EcoCentric has put on hold its community-based mining partnership projects that target small-scale players.

This is due to the dusk to dawn curfew and Covid-19 take a toll on the country's economy.

The firm, which works closely with artisanal mining communities, was preparing to launch an artisanal mining based partnership project.

The partnership between EcoCentric and artisanal and small-scale mining communities is aimed at unlocking access to improved mercury-free mining equipment, processing technology and ensure licensing compliance with the government.

 

It also provides training to artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) community on health and safety.

“The curfew announcement caught EcoCentric and mining community parties off- guard, the launch had to be unconditionally put on hold,” EcoCentric director Edward Ndirangu told the Star.

He said though communities were disappointed, the presidential announcement to stop movement within high-risk zones and discontinuing non-essential services is very critical to curbing the spread of the virus.

However, the move will have several negative knock-on effects within the ASM sector.

Among them is the fact that mining inputs will increase in price and mining expertise will become scarce.

“Investors with interest in pumping resources into the artisanal and small-scale mining sector will hold onto their investments until things improve. We are already seeing this happening as we speak,” Ndirangu said.

Mining activities are reported to have reduced, especially in Western Kenya region which has high mineral potential with a large number of community-based mining projects.

 

Middlemen are said to be taking advantage of low business and demand to purchase the commodity at lower prices.

“Middlemen buyers of artisanal gold are really taking advantage. Buying prices have been slashed in a big way, and these buyers are not providing capital support like they usually do,” said Julius Opiyo, the secretary-manager of MICA an ASM community-based organization based in Migori Western Kenya.

EcoCentric team members with ASM community in Migori. They discussed partnership on improving the ASM sector in Migori County/COURSETY
EcoCentric team members with ASM community in Migori. They discussed partnership on improving the ASM sector in Migori County/COURSETY

“Once they buy the little minerals we had stockpiled, they will keep it in storage until the environment favors them and sell it at a major markup. They can afford to do such, but we ASM workers cannot. It works to their advantage and to our disadvantage,” Opiyo lamented.

The current government directive restricts movement to and out of major metropolitan areas of Nairobi and Mombasa, and has seen all major forms of public transport shut down.

To compound the issue, several workers and facilitators in the ASM industry have also either completely shut-down, or greatly reduced their work output.

“Specialists in the mining industry who either come from the big towns such as Kisumu, Nakuru, Nairobi or from across the border in Tanzania, have all gone back home for now. People are feeling unsure on how things will turnout, and for safety reasons are opting to go home and lay low until this is all over” Opiyo explained.

In Narok area, leaders recently introduced measures to mitigate economic crunch brought on by the covid-19 lockdown.

“The county government in conjunction with ASM community have had very constructive dialogue. The Government has declared mining an essential service and re-opened mining activities,” notes Jeremy Ole Moonka, a stakeholder in the ASM sector in Narok.

The local government has also introduced Covid-19 health measures to be adopted in all mine sites , which are in line with similar activities happening in other mining sectors around the world, including mines in Quebec Canada.

ASM stakeholders are hoping the Covid-19 pandemic will be contained soon to allow normalcy at mining sites and the business environment at large, where dwindling fortunes and reduced activities are threatening their livelihoods, amid fears of rising property levels.

“Both these fears are real and only bottom up solutions from a community grassroots level and top down action from both national and county government can release the ASM communities from this stalemate,” said Ndirangu.