In a significant step towards responsible artisanal gold mining, the planetGOLD Uganda project hosted its annual stakeholders meeting in November, under the theme, “Building Uganda’s mercury-free artisanal gold mining sector.” Held in Kampala, the meeting brought together a diverse group of stakeholders including government officials, miners, environmental experts, and representatives from UNEP IMPACT, as well as Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM). The meeting served as a platform for stakeholders to exchange ideas, share insights, and explore the possibility of alternative technologies that align with the government's commitment to environmentally friendly mining practices.
The planetGOLD Uganda project partners in the country, DGSM and NEMA, emphasized need to focus on collaborative efforts with miners and for the government to enhance innovative solutions that reduce the use of mercury in gold mining. While addressing participants, NEMA’s executive director, Dr Barirenga Akankwasah, indicated that the gathering was a pivotal milestone in efforts to safeguard both the country’s natural resources and the livelihoods of those engaged in artisanal mining. “The alternatives of mercury free mining are there, all we need is government support on how we can transition into responsible mining,” he said.
NEMA, together with UNEP, was key in drafting the National Action Plan that was endorsed by the government of Uganda as a national strategy to reduce, the use of mercury by the artisanal gold miners according to Inaki Rodríguez, who represented UNEP. “Years ago, we started working with NEMA to identify what the main sources of mercury pollution in Uganda were and we identified the use of mercury in ASGM which was very heavy at the moment. Everyone has a voice and an experience to share that we are all putting together towards the success of the project,” he said.
As part of the activities of the day, participants watched videos and heard about the experience of artisanal gold miners in Uganda and lessons from the use of mercury-free innovations across the world..
As the guest of honour, Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, assured participants that the government is very interested in supporting miners to adapt mercury-free mining technologies. “If the technology is there, tell us how affordable it is. We are organizing miners to form groups to acquire the logistics needed to invest in it. We want to be a model of excellence in mining and developing resources using qualified expertise within the ministry,” she said while echoing the fact that most miners are driven into mining by the need to earn a livelihood. “Do they enjoy it, or they have no option? They know it is a risky business, but they would rather take the risk than die of poverty,” Hon. Nankabirwa asserted.
The minister also acknowledged the planetGOLD Uganda project’s invaluable support in organizing the annual stakeholders meeting and underscored the importance of collaboration in finding effective, sustainable solutions. “This is good news that the planetGOLD Uganda project has been launched and that it is going to support ASGM to be saved from mercury use,” she said.
For planetGOLD, this could not be truer as Lynn Gitu, planetGOLD project manager, said, “My expectation for the future is how we can all work together to implement the project and reduce mercury to a tune of 15 tonnes.”
The gold mining sector plays a crucial role in Uganda's economy, and as it was revealed at the meeting, the government is committed to ensure that ASGM sector demonstrates a commitment to embracing innovative and sustainable practices in the mining sector.
As the meeting concluded, it was evident that the planetGOLD Uganda annual stakeholders meeting marked a significant milestone in the journey towards mercury-free gold mining in the country. The collaboration between miners, the government, and environmental experts underscores a shared commitment to responsible mining practices that prioritize the well-being of communities and the environment.
The planetGOLD Uganda project is supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It is executed by IMPACT, in partnership with Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM). The project aims to reduce the use of mercury by supporting formalization of the artisanal gold mining sector and increasing access to finance. This will lead to adoption of mercury-free technologies and allow access to more responsible and traceable gold supply chains.