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Optimizing Artisanal Mining

Brief

Artisanal mining is a driving force in the socio-economic growth of communities everywhere. It often takes shape as an individual or small community doing mining activities with little to no technology as a way to support their family’s income. In some areas, artisanal mining serves as a seasonal job opportunity to help supplement the income of families that often have their main source of income as farmers. According to the World Bank, there are over 100 million artisanal miners around the world[1].

In mining frontiers, regions where artisanal mining is prominent, rural development tends to be higher than average. According to ‘The Contribution of the Mining Sector to Socio Economic and Human Development’, the Human Development Index (HDI) increased 50% faster in low-income countries with a strong mining economy in relation to non-mining countries between 2007-2012. This may be a result of the interest of the community, government and businesses coming together to support its growth by building supporting infrastructure, which in turn leads to better market access and overall community improvements. This article will look at steps that should be taken to help optimize artisanal mining to allow for better productivity and human wellbeing (source).

Drones

Drones can be used to help provide a visual inspection of the mining environment for potential hazards and opportunities, reducing the time spent by humans on the same task. Whether it is gold, cobalt, copper or silver mining, drones can be useful when analyzing surface mining areas and to assess conditions due to environment degradation. This dynamic, allows individuals to make better use of their time by focusing on more productive mining areas to aggregate value not only to their business, but also to their communities and lives. For example, after a rain or flood, a drone may be used to support the assessment of changes to the mining landscape to help miners determine ‘No Go Areas’, ‘Unearthed Opportunities’ and ‘Communities at Risk Concerns’. Such process could be more dangerous and take longer if solely conducted on foot by the miners. Given the ample dataset and reduced labor due to the use of drones, individuals are also able to begin work sooner on the reconstruction of affected areas.

Drones have the added value of potentially helping other areas in the community. Farmers may benefit from receiving an assessment of their crops to help mitigate potential risks, while facilities may get a risk assessment to help fix leakage or other structural damages before they become a concern. The price of a drone continues to drop and in a lot of cases, a single drone may be able to cover the needs of multiple communities, helping to decrease the overall cost of production and maintenance.

Please note that in some jurisdictions, there are licenses and regulatory requirements that need to be followed.

Satellite Imagery

The use of satellite imagery and data analytics can help artisanal miners to determine the potential environmental impacts that their mining activities may have to their environment. This can help communities and governments to make more informed decisions. Considerations should be made regarding soil and water contamination, human safety and health impacts, erosion, sinkholes and biodiversity loss.

Healthcare

Healthcare is often a major concern when it comes to small community artisanal mining. Health dangers to individuals often come in the shape of dangerous fumes, interaction with hazardous material, physical exertion, and lack of appropriate care. To the community, concerns arise over the environmental impact which can contaminate the soil, water, lead to terrain erosion among other issues. When the income earner can’t work due to health problems, the whole family stands to lose.

To better support mining communities, healthcare providers should be given the necessary resources to help mitigate, diagnose and resolve health challenges at an early stage, before it causes long-term damage to the patients. Although economic concerns may limit their ability to use the latest technology, knowledge available online can be a powerful tool in the prevention and care of many minor incidents. For healthcare providers in areas with limited internet connection, transferring knowledge into books or offline digital format (E.g. PDF on a Tablet) can help ameliorate knowledge transfer. A good starting source is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Government and Non-profit organizations (NGOs) should look into translating the relevant resources into the relevant native language to help facilitate knowledge sharing.

A continuous collaborative effort between State and healthcare institutions in mining communities is beneficial to ensure that a strong, up-to-date healthcare database is maintained, and that good data analytics work is done to uncover invaluable insights to help support better predictability and mitigation mechanisms. For example, cross-comparison between certain health issues that are found to be common in the area, can result in better resource allocation.

Mobile Tech: Price Accessibility – Artisanal miners are regularly required to work with middleman to sell their goods into the market. This relationship is often built upon a certain degree of information asymmetry where the intermediary has market knowledge such as current and historical prices that the miner may not have.  The lack of information puts the miners in a weaker negotiating position, which can lead to sub-optimal trades which can potentially leave them in a precarious socio-economic condition. As you can see below, the price of commodities (gold & platinum are exemplified) can oscillate a lot throughout days, months and years. Internet and cellphone accessibility coupled with training can help the artisanal miner gain access to such information, which can lead to better negotiations, ultimately leading to higher incomes.

Gold prices in USD throughout history. Built in Power BI, Source: Datahub.io

Platinum contracts from 2014-2019 by Finviz.com

Mobile Tech: Education– The internet is a treasure trove of valuable information that can be used to support artisanal miners. Whether it involves information about the best methods to access and extract minerals, awareness related to safety or techniques to mine. Mobile technology coupled with tech literacy can further augment an artisanal miner’s success, this can lead to further output gains and a better life for them and their families.

Governments and NGOs should look into providing low-cost technology (LCT) solutions such as books and tablets filled with information catered to that community to help them gain access to digital learning resources. LCTs are a great way to provide a digital library that can further improve the overall wellbeing of the community. It is essential to provide digital literacy to ensure that the technology is used as intended and is not damaged.

Mobile Tech: Mapping – Miners and governments at all levels should look into mapping and categorize all the regions that have mining activities. According to their categories, educational workshops can be used to help miners and prospect miners to learn about best practices, safety, risks and opportunities associated with the end-to-end cycle of mining.

Conclusion

Hard commodities extraction remains a major income contributor to millions of families and hundreds of governments around the world. The areas covered are just a glimpse of the issues leaders are facing with the advances of the fourth industrial revolution. There are concerns over scalability, data analytics, security and many more. Businesses, governments, and communities’ reactions to these changes can be paramount to their short to long-term success and their ability to adapt to different societal pressures. Has your business or community been taking the necessary steps to fully benefit from Industry 4.0? How can technology assist the community and people around you to be more efficient and, ultimately, lead a better life?

We would love to hear from you!

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