The artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector has long been marginalized at least partly due to its informal nature. However, the global community has begun to recognize that ASGM is a driving force for rural economic development. When formalized, ASGM provides the millions of men and women who work in the upstream mining and downstream gold trading businesses with livelihood opportunities not found in many other sectors in the 80-plus countries in which it takes place. The European Partnership for Responsible Minerals (EPRM) funded project, Scalable Trade in Artisanal Gold (STAG) which is executed by the Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) in partnership with RESOLVE and Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI) has been working to support this sector by scaling up gold trade, provide applicable due diligence mechanisms and training at the field level, while providing assistance with formalization at the three selected project sites.
STAG’s national team in Burkina Faso is comprised of members who have actively worked in the gold supply chain and brought this direct knowledge of the local ASGM sector to the project. The road to formalization is not always an easy one, but it is a task that STAG’s Ousmane Hamadoum, in his capacity as Formalization and Trade Officer with the AGC has a real passion and capacity for. The primary reason for this stems from Ousmane’s personal history with artisanal mining in Burkina Faso.
In 1974, Burkina Faso experienced a major drought that directly affected agricultural and livestock production. It was during this time that Ousmane’s family became involved in gold collecting and selling. At the age of 13, Ousmane began to assist his parents with their own operations and began gold panning in 2002. He was accompanied by other students from his middle school whose parents were also involved in artisanal mining. Not long after he took up panning in his free time, a major artisanal gold mining site was discovered near his school. Men, women, and children rushed to the site, but Ousmane did not. At this point, Ousmane’s teachers had noticed that he was excelling in his studies, and wanted him to continue his education. Thus, it was decided that he would be transferred to a school further away from the new site so that there would be no temptation to abandon his studies in favor of artisanal mining.
This would be a turning point for Ousmane, as many children had opted to join their parents at the new site and surface outcrops of ore. Amazingly these outcrops had to be burnt with wood to open the rocks before extraction of the gold by hand. The site was overseen by Comptoir Burkinabè pour les Métaux Précieux (CBMP). The main task of the children on the site was transporting the ore to the hand-crushing facility, maintaining the water supply, and manually crushing the ore.
By 2006, when Ousmane had nearly finished high school, he heard about a lecture on mining exploration companies in his area that piqued his interest in mining and geology. After obtaining his high school diploma, he decided to study mining and geology, which eventually led him back to the world of gold mining. He began working in the ASGM and LSM sectors doing mineral exploration and working with private gold buying houses.
Ousmane was hired by STAG in his current position as Formalization and Trade Officer in 2021. He then entered the world of international development, where he knew firsthand the challenges facing artisanal miners in Burkina Faso. He also understood the positive impact that formalization can make when it comes to scaling up trade and providing access to formal finance opportunities. Some of these challenges include economic, environmental, and legal issues, along with reduced income opportunities, conflict, and inability/understanding of the processes necessary for obtaining permits. This broad overview and understanding of the Burkinabe ASGM sector are what continue to motivate Ousmane to assist with the formalization procedures at STAG’s three target sites.
Ousmane’s outlook for the project is optimistic.
“My goal is to see the transformation of informal sites into formal artisanal mining operations that are well organized and supervised, with a good distribution of income. My goal is to also see artisanal miners understand the value of formalization.”
STAG will continue to engage to improve on the ground, with its team members like Ousmane, who will ensure that change happens.