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Safeguarding livelihoods or exacerbating poverty? Artisanal mining and formalization in West Africa

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In recent years, policy mechanisms to support a formalized artisanal and small‐scale mining (ASM) sector in sub‐Saharan Africa have gained increasing currency. Proponents of formalization argue that most social and environmental problems associated with the sector stem from the fact that ASM is predominantly unregulated and operates outside the legal sphere. This paper critically examines recent efforts to formalize artisanal and small‐scale mining in West Africa, drawing upon recent fieldwork carried out in Sierra Leone, Ghana and Mali. In exploring the sector's livelihood dimensions, the analysis suggests that bringing unregulated, informal mining activities into the legal domain remains a considerable challenge. The paper concludes by confirming the urgent need to refocus formalization strategies on the main livelihood challenges and constraints of small‐scale miners themselves, if poverty is to be alleviated and more benefits are to accrue to depressed communities in mineral‐rich regions.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: The University of Bath, United Kingdom 2: The University of Reading, United Kingdom

Publication date: 2011-11-01

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