Cabinet to the rescue of small-scale miners

Close to one million small-scale miners in Kenya can now carry out their activities unhindered following the lifting of a four-year ban on their trade.

The move follows a Cabinet decision that allows an estimated 800,000 small-scale miners to engage in their livelihoods using traditional and customary methods across various mining sites in Kenya.

“As a pathway to unlocking the potential of the nation’s mining sector, Cabinet authorized the partial lifting of the moratorium on issuance of new mining rights effected by Cabinet in the year 2019. To protect Kenya’s national interest, the intervention comes in tandem with a more transparent and competitive licensing system,” Cabinet briefing notes in part.

Kenya’s mining sector

The initiative to lift the moratorium on the issuance of new mining rights is seen as a strategic step toward harnessing the full potential of Kenya’s mining sector.

Industry data shows that Kenya’s artisanal mining industry workforce of about 140,000 is more than 10 times larger than its equivalent in large-scale mining, which employs just 9,000 workers.

A 2012 report jointly published by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), UK Aid, and Pact, observed that approximately 60 per cent of Kenya’s gemstones and a significant portion of its gold and construction materials are sourced from artisanal and small-scale mining operations.

Additionally, the ARM report said artisanal gold mining accounts for about $224 million (Kes33.6 billion) to Kenya’s GDP, which is more than half of the total GDP contribution from the country’s mining sector.

The Cabinet said the latest decision was informed by a Nationwide Airborne Geophysical Survey conducted in the country.

Kenya’s mining industry players, including both large-scale mining companies and artisanal miners, had been advocating for the lifting of the moratorium, only for the government to insist on the need for a more detailed audit.

Cabinet decision is expected to bring relief to small-scale miners while addressing issues such as tax losses, smuggling, and environmental degradation linked to unregulated mining practices.

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Opportunities for small-scale miners

Formerly imposed in 2019 by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to streamline the sector, the moratorium had posed challenges to small scale miners. In the Lake Victoria basin for instance, over 250,000 miners, particularly in the realm of small-scale gold production were left jobless.

The latest decision is anticipated to create opportunities for these miners and enhance their access to formal financial and technical support, contributing to the growth of the mining industry.

The ARM report features several case studies of regions heavily reliant on small-scale mining such as the Osiri gold mine in Migori. In this county, roughly 70 per cent of the economically active population is engaged in small-scale mining as their primary source of income.

Across Kenya, small-scale miners face a myriad of health hazards due to the unregulated nature of their business.

According to the ARM report, Migori County alone produces 1.2 tonnes of mercury annually through the amalgam burning process, which is employed for ore separation. This process contributes to an annual mercury emission of up to 765Kg.

Mercury is classified by the World Health Organization as one of the most hazardous chemicals in terms of public health. Excessive mercury exposure is linked to detrimental effects on the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, as well as respiratory and kidney damage.

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