In praise of small miners: A boom in artisanal mining offers lessons in development (The Economist – May 7, 2016)

ON THE outskirts of the western Ivorian town of Angovia, Joseph Bado hunches over a pile of gold-laced stone, pulverising it with a hammer. Mr Bado, who is in his mid-30s, was born in a farming village in central Ivory Coast.

Frustrated by his meagre earnings in the cocoa fields, he left in 2003 to become a miner. His travels took him to neighbouring Ghana and Mali before he returned to Ivory Coast in 2013, drawn by its own nascent gold boom. “You can work for years in cocoa and not get anything. You won’t even have food,” says Mr Bado.

Informal mining settlements like Angovia’s, a series of hills dotted with tattered tarpaulin-covered shelters and pockmarked by deep pits, have been unexpectedly popping up in recent years across the west African country. For many years Ivory Coast’s economic fortunes were tied to agriculture. After independence in 1960 it became the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Few gave much thought to what treasures might lie deeper in its ochre-red soil.

But a slump in cocoa prices and a jump in those of minerals prompted a boom in artisanal mining. From a base of virtually nothing at the turn of the century, the government reckons there are now some 500,000 small-scale gold miners.

Ivory Coast was one of the last guests to the African mining party, arriving just before the music was turned down. Yet across the continent there has been a surge in small-scale mining. The World Bank reckons that the number of artisan miners in Africa has grown from about 10m in 1999 to perhaps 30m today.

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