In many countries, 70 to 80 per cent of small-scale miners are informal. Despite the inform nature of the sector, Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) has in the recent years grown rampantly because of the rising value of minerals globally.
According to a report released by the Intergovernmental Forum (IGF) Global Trends in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM): A Review of Key Numbers and Issues, the number of people directly engaged in ASM has risen from 6 million in 1993 to over 40 million in 2017.
However, because of the informal nature of the trade, artisanal mining has been linked to damaging socioeconomic, health and environmental impacts, which trap the majority of miners and communities in cycles of poverty and exclude them from legal protection and support.
Despite its low productivity, ASM is an important source of minerals. It accounts for about 20 per cent of the global gold supply, 80 per cent of the global sapphire supply and 20 per cent of the global diamond supply. ASM is also a major producer of minerals indispensable for manufacturing popular electronic products, such as laptops and phones. For example, 26 per cent of global tantalum production and 25 per cent of tin comes from ASM.
Many miners resort to mining as an alternative source of income and move from one mine site to another basing on availability of minerals. Others resort to mining as an alternative to agriculture. Many miners are unskilled reason for which their Environmental, Health and Safety practices tend to be very poor.
To be able to earn from minerals in an informal sector, some organized groups have adopted responsible mining practices by eliminating child labor in mines, improving social and environmental practices among other measures and adopting other standards of Fairtrade to be able to sell their gold on the international market and earn from it.