They are looked at as people whose real work is not known as they are usually seen as mere stone collectors or experts in quarrying without knowing that behind their hard work lies the hidden treasure which contributes a lot to the national economy.
Locally, their efforts are not seen but if they work too hard to expand their base, they bargain more than people might think.
Such people are Artisan and Small Scale Miners (ASM) whose activities have been ignored for the past years by government and the private sector, who thought the country can only depend on agriculture as a major economic earner as has been the case since independence. Mining was not considered as a major contributor to the economy.
These people extract small and precious stones which are mostly turned into jewels and, at times, can just be sold in raw form.
Fifty-four-year-old wife and mother of six children, Margret Nkhoma Banda of Mzimba, is one such person who has been in the small-scale mining. She boasts that her life has changed through the industry though government and the private sector put little effort to promote it.
She has been in the industry for over 10 years and is a proud owner of three cars, six houses. Besides that, she is sending her children to private schools, a thing she say happened because of her mining involvement. “I have survived the ASM and I am proud to say it has transformed my life, even though I met hustles but I have survived with the help of my husband and children. We work as a team,” she said.
–Life as an artisan miner–
Nkhoma was introduced to mining in 1999 by her friends. Then, she just belonged to a mining association without her practising the actual mining until 2004 when she started mining gems and other stones which are used to make jewel. Mostly in the Malawian ASM industry, the miners extract gemstones, coal, construction materials, dimension stones, limestone, gypsum, salt, talc, aquamarine, quartz and citrin, among others.
Nkhoma said she extracts rose quartz, which is an ornamental stone on top of aquamarine blue, smokey quartz and clear quartz, which has brought food on her table and money. She, however, said ASM miners in the country such as her face a big challenge of marketing and lack of commitment from government and the private sector to support the industry.
“We lack good markets to sell our products. If government supported us like it does with the tobacco farmers, I believe the country can earn a lot from the mining. In mining, there is money but that is not explored. I am happy that now this government has shown interest in mining and I hope the best is going to come out,” said Nkhoma, after attending a mining symposium organised by FDH Bank in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining in Lilongwe recently under a theme ‘Unlocking artisanal and small scale mining opportunities for social economic development in Malawi’.
The symposium was held to review the draft ASM policy which will enable the ASMs to operate fully. Currently, the sector uses the outdated 1981 Mining policy, which does not adequately regulate the ASM; hence, the draft policy to seek views to be included in the final policy on ASM.
ASM activities in Malawi have grown considerably in recent years and are a source of livelihood for many families in some rural areas.
There are so many challenges that the ASM face that include informal and unsustainable operation, poor collaboration with large-scale private mining, lack of appropriate technology for value addition, capital, smuggling and lack of artisan trainings among others.
President of the Malawi Women in Mining (Mawima) said the Mining Policy for ASM will help to address challenges faced by the miners. “We are hopeful that the policy under review will address our problems and bring a positive change to the mining sector which has been neglected for long time,” she said.
FDH Bank managing director Phillip Madinga said ASM has the potential to contribute towards poverty reduction and limiting rural-urban migration by stimulating local processing and manufacturing industries that provide employment opportunities. He said as a bank, they believe in boosting the small-scale miners as they are the backbone of the country’s mining economy. He described the sector as one key source of economic growth and poverty reduction; hence, their interest to help the ASM.
“We believe in investing from the grassroots. We believe success in the mining sector lies in the hands of the small-scale miners than on a larger scale. If we develop this sector, then the economic backbone is empowered and the whole economy will be boosted,” he said.
Madinga said FDH Bank is not only interested in profit making, but also developing lives of its clients and stakeholders. He said the bank noted the major challenges in the industry; hence, promised to meet some of the challenges faced like exposure, training, technical support, stakeholder cooperation and capacity building.
“We would like to build capacity for these miners so that they make their products known and be confident to exhibit them on international mining indabas that the country has little participation,” he said.
–Helping artisan miners–
Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Atupele Muluzi commended FDH Bank for the initiative it has taken to help the small-scale miners, saying it is in line with government policies of exploring the mining sector to contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the country’s wealth.
He said if explored and used accordingly, the sector can contribute over 20 percent to the country’s GDP, supplementing what agriculture contributes to the economy.
“The move by FDH Bank should be highly commended and people and other banks should emulate the same. Promoting small-scale miners will help a lot and the country’s economy will be boosted. By doing this, it is in line with the vision of our State President who wants to explore the sector to increase the country’s GDP,” he said.
Muluzi, however, warned the miners of smuggling some stones, saying this should not be taken as a norm as it hinders the growth of the industry. He, therefore, encouraged the miners to use legal ways of selling their stones and also make use of the offer by FDH Bank on their marketing needs.
The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS) identifies mining as one of the sectors that could potentially generate economic growth for the country but has not yet been fully explored. Major mining activities in the country are done on a small-scale but the proceeds are not widely marketed.
Malawi has traditionally been considered as an agro-based rather than mineral-based economy because of the policies that government pursued since independence.
If explored fully, mining which contributes only 10 percent to the GDP, can contribution close to 30 percent of the GDP.