The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP)

ASM in Ethiopia

Developing the ASM sector

Ethiopia’s long history of artisanal mining spans three millennia. The gold deposits in Ethiopia’s rivers, for example, have been exploited for thousands of years by small scale miners.

Today, artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) happens all around the country and still plays an extremely important role in Ethiopia. However, much artisanal mining activity remains informal, and historically the sector has not benefitted from much formal support or regulation from the Government. 

Developing and formalising the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining sector has become a high priority both for Ethiopia’s Homegrown Reform Agenda and for the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP). Significant reforms are underway to modernize artisanal and small scale mining, and transform it into a sustainable livelihood for its practitioners. These reforms will encourage responsible, inclusive small enterprises to engage safely and legally in the mining sector, and collaborate  productively with large-scale mining enterprises. The reforms aim to increase ASM’s overall contribution to the Ethiopian economy, increase revenue collection, and create jobs. They also aim to make Ethiopia an increasingly attractive jurisdiction for large-scale investment and contribute to Ethiopia’s sustainable development.

Ethiopia’s Artisanal, Special Small-Scale Mining National Strategy

In order to accomplish these goals, Ethiopia has recently put in place a comprehensive Artisanal, Special Small-Scale Mining National Strategy. Its primary objective is to formalize the artisanal mining sector and promote responsible, inclusive and productive operations that contribute to sustainable development. 

In order to achieve this, the Government of Ethiopia has adopted a coordinated approach to deliver on the following key objectives:

  1. Strengthen ASM governance so that it is an attractive and conducive jurisdiction for investment as part of the formal economy. Three aspects of good governance need to be strengthened; namely, law and regulation, structural management, and geosciences data.
  2. Increase efficiency, productivity and competitiveness of local mineral producers at ASM level. This incorporates promoting access to capital, access to technology, and access to skilled labour.
  3. Enhance value addition and maximise earnings by ensuring access to local processing facilities and markets and developing supplier and diversified businesses.
  4. Foster an environmentally and socially responsible ASM sector that complies with appropriate environmental, community, health and safety standards.
  5. Promote two important issues that crosscut in each of the other four objectives; namely, women’s fair participation and beneficiation in ASM and utilisation of indigenous knowledge.

Artisanal mining today and in history

As noted earlier, the history of artisanal mining in Ethiopia spans three millennia – particularly for gold. Some historians have estimated that the oldest mine in the world, dating back more than 6 000 years, was in western Ethiopia near the Sudanese border. The numerous placer gold deposits in Ethiopia’s rivers have been exploited for thousands of years by small scale miners using rudimentary techniques in the water and river sands.

Currently, artisanal and small scale miners are producing clay, crushed stone, diatomite, a wide variety of gemstones including opal and emeralds, gold, gypsum, salt, sand, silica sand, and tantalum. However, it primarily still focusses on gold, gemstones (especially opals) and tantalum. 

Well-known artisanal and small scale mining areas in Ethiopia’s rich Greenstone Belts are displayed in the map below:

Artisanal mining, employment and the economy

According to a 2016 ASM study concluded by Ethiopia’s Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (or E-EITI) uncovered the following interesting facts:

  • Artisanal mining contributes about 65% of Ethiopia’s foreign exchange earnings
  • It directly employs around 1.26 million people
  • It is a source of livelihood for a further 7.5 million people
  • Those who engage in artisanal mining are highly dependent on that income stream, with an estimate 74% of their livelihoods coming from mining

Artisanal mining also plays an important role in discovering new mineral deposits and in curbing rural to urban migration. 

Improving market access and increasing earnings

While Ethiopia has an artisanal mining license process in place, around 94% of active artisanal miners are unlicensed. Relatedly, only around 20% of the royalties owed by artisanal miners is actually collected. This means that, with better sector oversight, Artisanal Mining has the potential to be a far more potent contributor to Ethiopia’s fiscus. 

Another related challenge is that much of the trade in the minerals produced by Artisanal miners is illegal. The E-EITI’s ASM study estimated that the volume of mineral marketed through formal (legal) channels is only 39% of the total production. 

The minerals that are collected by legal buyers at production sites (from both legal and informal producers) are directly channelled to the National Bank of Ethiopia for export. However, the remaining balance (61%) goes through informal channels, and is largely absorbed in the local markets, with some possibly exported through sales to tourists and foreign passengers.

The MoMP, along with a host of other ministries and stakeholder groups, is actively seeking to address this issue by developing centralised formal market centres close to mining areas that are legally connected with regional, national and international markets.

Profile of an artisanal miner in Ethiopia

Artisanal miners tend to be at the peak productive age of 18-45 years old, meaning that artisanal mining is an important source of employment for Ethiopia’s youth, especially in rural areas. The majority of artisanal miners are men. Studies find that women (as well as children and the elderly) are participating less and less in the sector, due to surface mining becoming increasingly untenable as placer gold in Ethiopia has been almost entirely depleted. This means that artisanal mining increasingly requires digging or tunnelling, activities that are dominated by men.

Prioritising women in the ASM sector

Ethiopia has taken measures to tackle gender inequality in mining broadly and in artisanal mining in particular. A Gender Equality Working Group (GEWG) has been established to help improve gender equality in Ethiopia’s mining community. 

The main focus of the working group is on integrating gender concerns and opportunities into all relevant policies, legislations, strategies, program designs, plans and budgets coming out of the MoMP. This is intended to further advance Ethiopia’s Home Grown Economic Agenda objectives, while also making sure that, in the mining sector,  Ethiopian men and women benefit equally from the Home Grown Economic Agenda, in a way that aligns with with Ethiopia’s Sustainable Development Goal and Agenda 2030.  

It is currently actively engaged in (1) reviewing and analyzing Ethiopia’s existing policies, legislations, regulations, plans and budgets from gender perspective; and (2) enhancing the gender competence of human resources to ensure that gender principles, values, norms and practices are adopted into the MoMP’s organizational culture. This will include reforms and advances made in relation to the ASM sector. 

The  MoMP is also developing a Gender Equality Strategy. This strategy is informed by international best practices, and aims to ensure that gender mainstreaming and sustainable development approaches are included in the MoMP’s organizational policies, systems, processes and accountability mechanisms. 

Environmental Impact

As artisanal mining increasingly requires digging or tunnelling, the environmental impact of artisanal mining is also on the increase. 

Unfortunately, few ASM miners are aware of the harmful effects of mining, which can cause deforestation (excessive tree felling), soil erosion and land degradation. In general, artisanal miners do not take any rehabilitative or restorative measures to ameliorate the environmental impacts caused by mining. 

The MoMP has taken steps to lessen the environmental impact of artisanal mining by providing a set of guidelines for artisanal miners, local communities surrounding artisanal mining sites and licensing authorities. 

This guideline will help artisanal miners become aware of the potential dangers of their activities and help them mine in a more sustainable way. It will also improve the management of the artisanal mining sector by providing the licensing authorities with a set of checks and balances they did not previously have.