Columnists Features

Small-scale gold miners can help fight poverty

TEMBO Benedict.

THAT the majority of citizens continue to wallow in poverty in the midst of abundant potential wealth is a paradox.

Zambia is endowed with abundant natural resources including minerals that can be harnessed to achieve poverty reduction and improve livelihoods.

Given the country’s mineral endowment, it is puzzling that most citizens continue living in abject poverty.
This is against the background that we are just 13 years away from attaining the prosperous middle-income country status.
Despite the gloomy picture, this country has immense opportunities of turning the economic misfortunes into fortunes.
And small-scale mining of various minerals holds the key to transforming the lives of millions of our citizens, especially in rural areas.
Zambia is among the countries endowed with so much mineral wealth. In fact, it is one of the largest producers of copper in the world.
Besides its major mineral endowmen, copper, Zambia equally has abundant precious stones. Regions renowned for precious stones include the Copperbelt, which boasts of emeralds and tourmaline in Lufwanyama.
The Eastern Province, too, has its own share of minerals such as tourmaline, garnet, aquamarine, amethyst, gold, copper, graphite and iolite.
Amethyst, quartz and tin are in abundance in Kalomo’s Mapatizya in Southern Province, while Luano Valley in Central Province has huge deposits of gold, so has Lusaka Province.
Vubwi and Lundazi in Eastern Province, and Luano valley are some of the areas in the country with 95 percent of alluvial gold deposits.
This is why most people who live in mineral-rich areas have not sat back to allow poverty to mock them.
They are busy mining these minerals, of course, with a host of challenges stuck in their way.
Chief among the challenges include obsolete tools and technology they use to extract these minerals.
Quite a number of them use unsafe methods of mining and end up dying when the earth collapses on them or from sickness from using unsound environmentally hazardous methods.
The lack of an organised market for most precious stones, including gold, is another challenge for artisanal small-scale miners.
Federation of Small-Scale Miners Association in Zambia vice-secretary general Martford Mumba says in the past, the Reserved Minerals of Zambia bought minerals from small-scale miners.
That way, Mr Mumba says, artisanal small-scale miners had a guaranteed market.
Lack of an organised market has exposed small-scale miners has exposed them to abuse by traders from other countries.
In Luano Valley, for example, there is an influx of Chinese mining gold there and traders from East Africa who are bartering mealie meal and solar products with precious stones.
Government has, through the Mines and Minerals Development, 2015 (Act No. 11 of 2015) and the Mines and Minerals Development (General) Regulations, 2016, acted to regulate small-scale mining in the country which is mostly illegal.
To this end, the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development has started issuing gold panning certificates to artisanal small-scale miners at K150.
But the use of mercury at artisanal and small-scale gold mining sites has been identified as a threat to the lives of the miners and the environment as well.
In view of this, the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) has commissioned a baseline study on the use of mercury and practices at artisanal and small-scale gold mining sites within the country.
The study is designed to protect human health and the environment from emissions of mercury from human activities.
Through this study, ZEMA wants to establish defined measures to curtail and reduce the effects of mercury pollution in the environment.
This will culminate into the development of a national action plan for the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector in Zambia, which will be achieved through collaboration with stakeholders.
ZEMA will work with various stakeholders such as the Geology and Mine Safety departments as well as the Ministry of Health, academia from the two public universities – the University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University.
This will ensure that ZEMA, which has partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as an implementing agency, and the African Institute as an executing agency, taps into the universities and other stakeholders’ expertise in scientific and technical knowledge.
Zambia is a signatory to the Minamata, a mercury global treaty with the objective of protecting human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury arising from human-induced emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
The parties to the convention in Article Seven are obliged to develop national action plans for the artisanal and small scale gold mining sector.
The journey the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development and ZEMA have embarked on is long overdue for the small-scale mining sector to make a meaningful contribution to poverty reduction and drive the country towards a prosperous middle-income status by 2030.
No small scale miner should be left behind.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail


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