Why Gold and Mercury Don’t Mix
CapCon Pitches in to Help Prevent Mercury Poisoning Among Gold Miners in Burkina Faso.
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Capcon joined a coalition of government officials, international financing institutions, and private companies at the Mercury-Free Artisanal Gold Mining Conference last month. This event in Burkina Faso marks the kick off of a larger, global effort to prevent mercury poisoning among small-scale gold miners. The ultimate goal of the initiative will be to provide broad support (training as well as regulatory and financial support via private capital investment) that will enable miners to adopt mercury-free mining methods.
Capcon joined the effort in Burkina Faso to provide support in investigating and evaluating the state of artisanal gold mining operations for their suitability to economically sustainable investments. The gold mining sector represents a rich opportunity to boost incomes and well being through government support combined with well-placed investments.
Surprisingly, gold mining continues to be a critical source of economic development in many African countries. According to United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO):
“artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a major source of income for a large part of the population in Burkina Faso. It is estimated that between 600,000 and one million people are directly and/or indirectly involved in the sector, producing approximately 27 tonnes of gold per year in more than 200 legal mine sites (and several hundred informal sites), making Burkina Faso the fourth largest gold producer in Africa.”
Less surprising, perhaps, is that much of the mining is done by “artisanal” gold miners, individuals or small groups of people who all too often use antiquated and dangerous mining techniques. As in many African countries, the majority of artisanal miners in Burkina Faso use mercury to extract gold from ore, exposing themselves to the risk of mercury poisoning and the severe health risks that go along with it. This condition persists in spite of the fact that there are cleaner and safer methods readily available.
“Mercury releases in Burkina Faso are some of the highest levels in Africa. It is estimated that small-scale miners use approximately 35 tons of mercury each year.”
In 2016, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) launched a global effort to help miners reduce the use of Mercury in gold mining. Known as the Global Opportunities for Long-term Development (GOLD), this initiative includes five-year project in Burkina Faso. The intervention strategy aims to introduce enforceable policies, regulations, formalization and training in Burkina Faso. The GEF will provide funds to support this effort, but is expected to solicit and attract co-financing from government budgets, lending institutions, and private entities.
Graham Heal attended the conference in Ouagadougou as part of Capcon’s continuing effort to uncover new market-based anti-poverty initiatives. Among many in attendance was Andrew Young, the U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso, as well delegations from the U.S. Embassies in Ghana and Guinea. Capcon’s focus in Burkina Faso is to participate in investigating and evaluating the state of artisanal gold mining operations, to “kick the tires” of this potential market for economically sustainable investments.
Along with his efforts in Burkina Faso, Heal is developing several other initiatives focused on high-growth economies of Sub-Saharan Africa. Other areas of investigation include affordable housing, urban land development, sustainable mineral processing, renewable power generation and agri-business.
For CapCon, this is an “on-mission” initiative, as it aims to increase the health and well being of miners as an integral part of improving their ability to generate income, economic growth, and jobs in their local communities. So CapCon is providing the means to evaluate artisanal mines in Burkina Faso and participate in the sort of due diligence that will make them attractive to “impact” investors, including both institutions and individuals.
While this effort is in its infancy, especially when viewed from a global perspective, CapCon hopes to provide a worthy contribution to this very worthy initiative.