Artisanal and Small scale Mining

Small scale Mining

Small scale Mining

There is no particular definition given to the artisanal and small-scale mining sector. Several parameters do influence what can accurately be described as a small-scale mining operations and it is normally a country specific. During the small-scale mining conference in Ankara, Turkey in 1988, a survey amongst the participants produced the significant results to illustrate how varied was the definition. The notable definitions and classifications emerged during the survey are as follows:

  • Production: 12,500–100,000 tons per year or 50–5,000 tons per day.
  • Employment: 10–100 persons employed.
  • Capital investment: US$120,000–$10m.
  • Revenue: $120,000–$10m.
  • Mine life: 1–10 years.

In PNG the capital investment in major mining projects is high and easily classified and so definition of the Mt Victor and New Guinea Gold projects were classed as small mines, compared to Bougainville, Ok Tedi, Porgera and Misima Mines. In accordance with our guidelines definition, a small-scale mine is an operation with a capital investment of up to $25 million. In developing countries this level of capitalization represents a substantial investment and it will always be a difficult task to source adequate capital for mining projects. It has been estimated that many small-scale mining operations in PNG start with as little as $15 (price of a gold pan), to as much as $3,000 in terms of expenditure for basic tools and portable equipment such as high bankers and suction dredges.

Also in the PNG context, small-scale mining applies equally to alluvial and hard rock that are covered by mining permits such as an Alluvial Mining Lease (AML) and Mining Lease (ML). With the alluvial gold it is defined as all unconsolidated rock materials, transported and deposited by stream action or gravitational action which are capable of being freely excavated without prior ripping or blasting.

The Status, Role and Importance of Artisanal and Small scale Mining

Small-scale mining in PNG probably started as early as 1888 when gold was first found in quantities on Sudest Island in the east. This was followed by discoveries in other parts of the country. This was followed by a gold rush in the Wau and Bulolo districts where payable gold was found at Koranga Creek in 1922. The gold rush developed into a major dredging operation along the Bulolo valley and spread to small open-pit mining in the Wau region from the 1930s to the early 1990s.

The early discovery and mining of small-scale gold deposits then spread to other parts of the country. Some of the early alluvial gold districts known about include the Kainantu and Porgera areas in Highlands Region, Amanab, Maprik and Ganamambu districts in the Sepik region, around the borders of Oro and Morobe provinces and Misima and Woodlark districts in the Milne Bay Province. Alluvial gold mining was mostly dominated by expatriates in those early gold rushes. That trend changed when indigenous people decided to go into mining for the first time in 1949, along the Wanion River. The transfer of skills and knowledge of alluvial gold mining took place in the 1950s and 1960s when many residents, especially around the Wau/Bulolo area, applied for and were granted MLs. By the early 1970s, most expatriates who originally held mining leases for small-scale gold mining in the country had transferred their leases to citizens. This may have been influenced by the country’s move towards independence.

At present, small-scale mining is recognized as legal cash-earning activity and it is given importance by the government which is using donor funds from AusAid and ADB to implement educational and micro-finance projects. The major objective of government policy is to improve the small-scale miners’ efficiency and economic performance while reducing the negative impact of environmental and social factors. The small-scale mining sector currently mines gold with some silver. There are three main types of small-scale mining operation. First is mechanised mining which uses heavy earth-moving equipment such as bulldozers and excavators and high-capacity ore-processing kit such as trommels and jigs. This category accounts for only about 1 per cent of the operations in PNG. The second group includes simple mechanized miners, who use hand-held portable equipment such as pontoon dredges, hydraulic sluice pumps and sluice boxes. This group accounts for about approximately 10 per cent of this sector’s operations. The last group includes the individual artisanal (micro-scale) miners who use simple panning dishes, shovels and rudimentary sluice boxes and comprises about 90 per cent of this sector. Mining practices and gold recovery are both very inefficient and hazardous. The bulk of the 50–60,000 small-scale miners throughout the country falls into this category and it is estimated that they earn an average monthly income of K250–K500.

The miners within these three categories are expected to have registered formal mining leases preferably MLs and AMLs granted under the Mining Act of 1992. Most of these grassroots miners operate on unregistered customary-owned land and they are recognized as formal miners as provided under the act. The simple mechanized miners are not permitted to mine without proper registration and other formalities owing to the nature of their operations.

As of 31 December 2000, the tenement registry records 113 AMLs and 367 MLs. For the convenience of administration each lease is represented by only one miner. In some particular situations, especially under earlier arrangements for business or family connections a lease may be registered under two or three miners’ names,

Prior to the coming into force of the Mining Act of 1992 and regulation, miners operated under mining tenements such as Gold Mining Lease GML, DSC, Hydraulic Claim (HC), ERCC and more. These tenements were granted under the repealed mining legislation Mining Act, chapter 195.

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