The benefit of upskilling artisanal miners

Mining companies and African countries is set to benefit from upskilling artisanal miners. Image credit: Flickr

23 June 2021 – In a country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where artisanal miners account for up to 20% of the cobalt ore that is mined, it is beneficial to both the artisanal miner and the country to invest in upskilling, says Gerrie Bezuidenhout, Associate Mining Engineer at Bowline Professional Services.

Most artisanal miners are located close to established mines or are active in abandoned mines, with open pit operations being the most common method of mining. Open pits are dug to extract ore by hand that would otherwise not be economical.

This could include anything from precious metals such as vein-hosted gold, alluvial gravel washing for gold or high value base minerals such as copper-cobalt ore. The material is dug out by hand, broken by hand, sorted by hand and bagged or a concentrate generated and delivered to either a middle-man, or directly to a buying centre operated by the government or an authorised mine.

The question is: can the volume and value of the material recovered by artisanal miners be increased or improved? The answer is an emphatic yes, according to Bezuidenhout. By investing in upskilling of the artisanal miners, most of whom may have been active in the mining sector before, is worthwhile and easy.

By teaching artisanal miners the basics of open pit mining, such as safe working heights of benches, effective push-back of benches and construction of waste rock dumps in such a way as not to sterilise the already marginal deposit. This will enable the artisanal miners to not only work safer, but also be able to extract the maximum potentially extractable ore from the deposit and minimise dilution of the ore. This will increase both the volume and value of the material being delivered and increase the earnings of the artisanal miner.

Investing in the development of artisanal miners adjacent to, or on mine lease areas, will lessen the environmental impact, and the burden of the mining company that is ultimately responsible for the rehabilitation of the mine site.

It also increases the potential pool of skilled labour that can be employed at new operations or during the expansion of existing operations.

“Furthermore, it is now a requirement in traceability programs and goes a long way in meeting country specific environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), which is a hot topic in the mining industry at the moment,” says Bezuidenhout.

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