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 as Mbeere and Tharaka Nithi where gemstone and industrial mining occurs.
The coastal region is known for gemstone mining while in the Western region, gold mining is a major community activity within Kakamega, Migori, Trans Mara and Narok counties.
The management of extractive industries has however remained one of the most critical challenges for the sector. This is coupled by harassment from state officials, poor working environment, lack of proper protective and mining tools.
“There has been harassment of people dealing with small minerals. We don’t criminalise people holding small minerals, so long as they have the right paperwork,” Mining cabinet secretary Dan Kazungu noted in a interview with the Star yesterday.
According to the CS, this has resulted in neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Uganda, taking advantage, by buying the small minerals in a manner similar to smuggling, denying Kenya, full benefits from the trade.
For instance, gold worth an approximate Sh16 billion, is smuggled out of the country annually.
“These minerals find their way into Asia, Europe and the Middle East. We want to stop that,” the CS noted.
Rather than stimulating broad-based economic development, reliance on resource extraction has tended to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few, exacerbate corruption and inequalities.
This has led to environmental degradation and pollution, while doing little to reduce poverty, economic disparities and generate employment.
Worse still, in many countries, extractive resources have fuelled violent conflicts.
For example, Kenya is well known for gemstone mining; however, the small-scale (artisanal) miners, dominate the industry.
Artisanal mining accounts for over 60 per cent of annual gemstone production in Kenya, where women and youth play a major role in artisanal mining, according to Kazungu.
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.
This is however set to change according to the CS, under the new Mining Bill awaiting presidential ascent.
“Under the new bill, we are looking at seven areas of focus among them artisanal mining and small scale miners. President Uhuru Kenyatta is very clear. He wants to see Kenyans mainstreamed in the mining sector,” Kazungu said during the interview.
Cabinet, on April 1, 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.