Artisanal mining and livelihoods in the Global South

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In recent years, rural livelihoods in resource-rich countries of the Global South have been rapidly transformed by the growth of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector - low-tech, labour-intensive, mineral extraction and processing, typically focusing on precious metals and stones. Research has shown that despite being associated with a host of environmental, health and safety, and social concerns, the ASM sector provides a direct livelihood for an estimated 40 million people globally, with as many as 150 million people benefiting indirectly from the upstream and downstream activities it spawns. This work also suggests that the ASM sector has played an important role in meeting the needs of marginalised grassroots actors, including unemployed youth, women and children. However, these benefits often come at a cost. Most ASM takes place in the informal sphere, with mining activities occurring in remote areas where governance is poor, regulatory enforcement is virtually non-existent and elite capture is widespread. As the demand for key industrial minerals - such as the '3 T’s’ (tin, tungsten and tantalum) and cobalt - has soared in recent years, artisanal mineral supply chains that feed production in the major electronic companies have also come under increasing scrutiny. Research exploring the ‘darker side’ of ASM has examined its link to human rights abuses, shadow state economies, money laundering and criminal and terrorist networks. This chapter provides an introduction and critical overview of ASM and livelihoods in developing countries of the Global South. Drawing upon case study examples predominantly from sub-Saharan Africa, a range of different minerals that are extracted artisanally are explored. In reviewing both the challenges and benefits that artisanal operators face, the merits of a formalised ASM sector are discussed as a possible way of safeguarding livelihoods and ensuring that more benefits accrue to host communities where extraction takes place.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook on Livelihoods in the Global South
EditorsF. Nunan, C. Barnes, S. Krishnamurthy
Place of PublicationAbingdon, U. K.
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781000581508
ISBN (Print)9780367856359
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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