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The biggest industry you’ve never heard of.

Exploring the world of ASM.

More disturbingly, it is responsible for about 10% of the Amazon’s deforestation and contaminates thousands of waterways with poisonous chemicals.

The movie Rivers of Gold by the Amazon Aid Foundation will give you a heartbreaking first insight into the situation.

What is Artisanal and Small Scale Mining?

We all have seen images from large scale mining (LSM) sites, operated by global corporations like the BHP Group, Rio Tinto, or Vale. They often cover great amounts of surface area (open-pit mines) or go to great depths (underground mining), and have long life cycles and production phases. The largest open-pit mine, the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine in the US, reaches a width of about 4 km and a depth of 1.2 km. It has been operating since 1906 and is expected to yield ore into the 2030s.

The True Scale of ASM

The small size of individual ASM operations neither reflects their importance in the global market, nor their local impact.

The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) estimates that between 70–80% of small scale miners work informally.

To illustrate this figure, consider the following example: in 2018, the DRC officially exported 56 kg of ASM gold. The actual amount of gold sourced artisanally in the DRC is estimated to be 15–20 tonnes per year, leaving at least 14.94 tonnes unaccounted for. This gold is largely sourced informally, smuggled out of the country, or used to finance armed groups.

Exploring the ASM sector.

In the end, ASM is a complex trade-off: it can wreak havoc and destroy entire landscapes, rendering any alternative attempt at making a living from the ground futile. At the same time, it can be a source of income for entire communities. Therefore, any path to a more sustainable future, and any approach to solving the environmental and social issues around it, has to take into account the needs of all parties involved.



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