Govt asked to regulate small-scale mining operations
…Malawi losing revenue due to unregulated ASM activities
…Informal mining operations causing environmental damage
By Deborah Manda
Government has been asked to formalise and regulate artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) operations in order for the country to adequately benefit from the ASM subsector.
Mining and Environmental Management Expert Grain Malunga told Mining & Trade Review in an exclusive interview that Malawi is losing a lot of revenue from the ASM subsector because the sector is not formalised and regulated hence a good number of ASMs are operating without licences and do not remit tax to government.
He said failure by the government to manage the subsector is also a cause of environmental degradation which occurs in all stages of mine life cycle including exploration, mining, processing and closure.
It is unfortunate that in this age, our ASMs are using primitive tools such as hand-held hoes to extract precious minerals like gemstones due to lack of capital to procure equipment such as mini-excavators.
The market for their products is also not formalised and the vendors take advantage of this by buying their unprocessed stones at low prices to sell them at a whooping profit in foreign markets.
As a result, these duped miners are left in a position where they cannot save to rehabilitate the environment because their earning is just hand to mouth,
Mining & Trade Review’s visit to small scale mining areas in the mining district of Mzimba revealed that the miners are leaving a lot of holes which are posing a danger to livestock and other creatures.
The holes, which are filled with water during the rainy season, also contribute to the spread of water borne diseases and malaria as they have become a bleeding ground for mosquitoes.
Malunga explained that the government also needs to train the ASMs on good mining practices because use of primitive mining methods such as using wood to burn rocks can contribute to lung diseases when the smoke is inhaled, and the dust and smoke released in the process causes air pollution.
In a separate interview, Secretary General for Gemstone Association of Malawi (GAM), Ian Petros Mbewe, agreed with Malunga on the need for the government to move fast to formalise the ASM sector so that only licensed miners are involved in the trade.
Mbewe said besides assisting the government in collecting adequate tax from the subsector, regulation of the sector will enable the government to have data on the number of ASMs to equip them with technical and business skills so that they are not duped by the foreign middlemen who buy their stones at very low prices.
If ASMs are equipped with the technical and business knowhow and are able to sell stones at a good price, they will also be able to invest in environmental rehabilitation,
The government produced a Draft Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Policy in March, 2013 whose objectives include formalising and legalising ASMs operations and activities.
The policy calls for the grouping of ASMs into cooperatives to offer them technical and financial assistance and that the government works with them as partners for controlling illicit commercialisation of mineral resources.
Malawian ASMs are involved in the mining of precious stones such as gold and gemstones, and industrial minerals including limestone for the production of lime and terrazzo, granites for rock aggregate, coal, kaolinitic clay, salt, river and dambo sand, among others.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 54 (October 2017).