Congo’s small miners fill hole left by downsizing multinationals – by Aaron Ross (Reuters U.K. – July 18, 2016)

His toes bursting out of sneakers several sizes too small, a miner hacks with a pick at the copper and cobalt-laced stone in southeastern Congo, slowly filling a sack that could earn him anywhere from a handful to a few hundred dollars.

The 42-year-old father of five, who only gave his first name, Stany, has done this nearly every day for a decade, after he quit his maize fields for the comparatively lucrative mines of Africa’s top copper producer.

But unlike most artisanal mining, this is sanctioned by the Congolese government. As its mining heartland endures mass layoffs at big mines caused by low commodity prices, small-scale mining is helping to fill the deficit.

The price of cobalt, a byproduct of copper, is expected to rise 45 percent by 2020 owing to demand for electric vehicles. Congo holds about half the world’s cobalt reserves. Seizing the initiative, the national mines ministry has recognised dozens of cooperatives of workers to exploit 10 square kilometre plots of land owned by state miner Gecamines.

Tens of thousands of people also dig near mines owned by giants like Glencore (GLEN.L) and Eurasian Resources Group, as more than 13,000 jobs have been shed in the formal sector. Yet, as is often the case, poor local diggers say that it is savvier, well-capitalised foreign buyers who are cashing in.

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