Artisanal and small-scale mining, and COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa: A preliminary analysis

Gavin Hilson*, Steven Van Bockstael, Titus Sauerwein, Abigail Hilson, James Mcquilken

*Corresponding author for this work

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    This article offers preliminary reflections on the potential impact of COVID-19 on artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) activities – low-tech, labor-intensive mineral extraction and processing – in sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so, it revisits the core ideas put forward in the literature in support of showcasing the sector more prominently in the region’s rural development strategies. For decades, scholars have been gathering evidence that points to ASM being the most important rural nonfarm activity in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as how, in providing a supplementary source of income, the sector helps millions of the region’s impoverished farm-dependent families cope with unexpected economic stresses and shocks. Sub-Saharan Africa has managed to avoid high numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths thus far but it has already felt the economic impacts of the pandemic, perhaps nowhere more than in its remote rural areas, which are already poverty-stricken and produce food at mostly subsistence levels. Intensifying support for ASM, an economic activity which again, many rural Africans are already involved in and familiar with the benefits it provides, in rural development and adaptation plans linked to COVID-19, should be prioritized by the region’s governments and donors. Findings from ongoing research in Mali, Liberia and Ghana – the locations of three of the largest and most dynamic ASM economies in sub-Saharan Africa – reveal that despite its proven ability to stabilize and catalyze development in the region’s rural economies, that even this sector has been affected by COVID-19. They more importantly shed light on how the pandemic has impacted ASM-dependent communities, and importantly, offer clues on how to make the sector more robust and better position it to steer rural communities through the crisis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number105315
    Number of pages13
    JournalWorld Development
    Publication statusPublished - 1-Mar-2021

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