Readers note: From October 31 to November 2, 2023, Artisanal Gold Council staff from Canada, Burkina Faso, Mongolia, and The Philippines attended the Fifth Annual Conference of the Parties to the Minimata Convention. Below is part 2 of 4 in a series of reflections from the conference.
Saidou Kabre is the National Project Manager for the Global Environmental Facility-funded planetGOLD Burkina Faso project, executed by Artisanal Gold Council.
Question (Q): What was your main takeaway from COP5?
Saidou Kabre (SK): The COP5 was a conference at which the parties assessed the implementation of the Convention and made commitments to eliminate mercury. What caught my attention was the agenda on ASGM. I heard that ASGM is gold mining conducted by individuals or small enterprises who have limited capital investment and production, and who often use mercury to extract gold from ore or sediments. The mixture of mercury and gold, known as amalgam, is heated so that the mercury is vapourised, leaving the gold behind. The vapour is toxic, posing a serious threat to human health.
When released into water, mercury bioaccumulates in fish and amplifies its effects, contaminating the food chain. Indigenous Peoples, as well as local communities, can be particularly at risk due to their dependence on local food and water resources.
ASGM remains the largest contributor to global mercury use, emissions, and releases, resulting in harmful impacts on human health and the environment. According to the UN Environment Programme, it is estimated that ASGM releases 2000 tonnes of mercury into the environment annually, contributing nearly 40% of all mercury that enters the atmosphere.
ASGM is also an important form of employment. There are more than 15 million miners working in the ASGM sector, of which 4-5 million are women and children, spread across 80 countries. They account for up to 20% of the world’s gold production, with an estimated value of $28 billion.
(Q): What can AGC do to continue furthering the goals of the Minamata Convention?
(SK): To promote the objectives of the Minamata Convention, AGC could undertake or continue to develop the following actions:
- Train actors and stakeholders in the sector on the Minamata Convention on mercury.
- Train artisanal miners on the harmful effects of mercury.
- Raise awareness among local communities about the effects of mercury.
- Promote mercury-free ore processing technologies.
(Q): Are we making progress? What are the successes and opportunities for growth for the international community (in your respective country) to meet Minamata’s goals?
(SK): Real progress has been made towards achieving the objectives of the Minamata Convention in Burkina Faso:
- Gold miners are becoming more aware of the effects of mercury.
- Progressive adoption of mercury-free processing technologies.
- Commitments by government authorities to support the efforts of civil society players in the fight to eliminate mercury.
(Q): What can you and your team do to advance progress towards Minamata Convention goals?
- Scale up successful pilot experiments on mercury-free ore processing.
- Raise awareness among artisanal miners of the effects of mercury
- Facilitate access to chemical-free processing equipment.
(Q): How is AGC different from other organizations doing the same work, or similar, and how can we leverage our unique place in the international community?
(SK): AGC works directly on the ground with artisanal miners. Our action is not just theoretical but concrete and based on the results of proven scientific research and project implementation over the last 15 years.
AGC not only has the technical capacity but is also committed and utilizes highly competent staff in the field who have a very good local and global reputation.