HITCH

Virus hits small-scale miners in the country

About 100,000 people are directly engaged in artisanal mining in Kenya.

In Summary

• Several workers and facilitators in the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining industry have either completely shut down or reduced their work output.

• Mining consultancy firm -EcoCentric has postponed its artisanal mining based partnership project in different parts of the country.

A team from mining consultancy firm-EcoCentric during a recent visit to a mercury-free gold processing site in Narok/COURTESY
A team from mining consultancy firm-EcoCentric during a recent visit to a mercury-free gold processing site in Narok/COURTESY

Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) activities have been hit hard by the coronavirus and the ongoing nationwide curfew, as miners and investors contemplate on the future of the sub-sector.

An artisanal miner or small-scale miner is someone not officially employed by a mining company, but rather, works independently, mining or panning for minerals using their own resources.

It is estimated that about 100,000 people are directly engaged in artisanal mining in Kenya.

 

These include areas such the coastal region, Mbeere and Tharaka which are known for gemstone mining while in the Western region, gold mining is a major community activity within Kakamega, Migori, Trans Mara and Narok counties.

A number of community projects have been put on hold, the Star has established.

Among them is artisanal mining based partnership projects by mining consultancy firm -EcoCentric, which have been postponed.

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.

“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.

The firm had planned to roll-out a number of projects in different parts of the country, among them Kakamega, Migori and Narok counties.

“There are investors interested in pumping resources into the artisanal and small-scale mining sector but they have been forced to hold onto their investments until things improve, ”Ndirangu said.

 

The firm has been training small-scale mining communities on health and safety.

Effects of Covid-19 include an increase in mining inputs, price depreciation for small-scale miners and scarcity in mining expertise.

“There are a lot of negative knock-on effects within the ASM sector being experienced now,” Ndirangu said.

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

“Once they buy the little minerals we had stockpiled, they will keep it in storage until the environment favours them and sell it at a major markup. It works to their advantage and to our disadvantage,” said Julius Opiyo, the secretary-manager of MICA an ASM community-based organization based in Migori Western Kenya.

Several workers and facilitators in the ASM industry have also either completely shut down or 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,” Opiyo said.

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

The county government has introduced Covid-19 health measures to be adopted in all mine sites, similar to those in other mining sectors around the world, including mines in Quebec Canada.

“The county government has declared mining an essential service and re-opened mining activities,” said Jeremy Ole Moonka, a stakeholder in the ASM sector in Narok.

Artisanal mining accounts for over 60 per cent of annual gemstone production in Kenya, where women and youth play a major role.

The management of extractive industries has however remained one of the most critical challenges for the sector.

This is coupled with harassment from state officials, poor working environment, lack of proper protective and mining tools.

In some areas, artisanal and small-scale miners who prospect for the minerals, are violently evicted from the mines by powerful and well-connected large-scale prospectors, miners and traders who claim legal ownership of the land as soon as the locals discover mineral deposits.

The Cabinet, on April 1 2016, approved the Mining and Minerals Policy, aimed at encouraging investments in the extractives industry.

The policy provides guidance on the conduct of mining and development activities in the country.