In July and August, the planetGOLD Kenya team embarked on a mission to map out the ASGM landscape in four counties to inform the project's activities. Among the main findings? Artisanal and small-scale miners in Kenya understand that mercury is dangerous but continue to use it due to lack of other options - and they want an alternative.
The planetGOLD Kenya Project has had an exciting few months! From mid-July to mid-August, the team embarked on a mission to identify miners and mobilize mining groups in Kakamega, Vihiga, Migori and Narok counties to map out the artisanal and small-scale gold miners in the areas. Ultimately, the information gathered during this mission will inform the project’s site selection exercise.
The team carried out the mapping activity alongside members of the Artisanal Mining Committees, county government officers and regional mining officers of the respective counties.
Regional Project Officers Henry Nyamai (Migori/Narok Region) and Convine Omondi (Kakamega/Vihiga) led the crew in visiting the miners, collecting GPS coordinates of their work locations and analyzing the nature of their gold mining practices.
Consequently, the team intended to understand how the miners govern and organize themselves – if they are organized into groups, and the names, sizes and formality of these groups – and find out if the groups have active bank accounts. Understanding these dynamics is critical for the project team, who will use this information to program the project execution.
In addition to the aforementioned aspects, the team was interested in observing the technologies and practices that miners are currently employing. These include mining methodologies, types of ore deposits (alluvial or hard rock), and existing gold processing practices used in each location. Other dynamics observed comprised what the miners did with tailings, available mercury alternatives, best and worst practices, the nature and state of the surrounding environment, and waste management practices that are presently in place.
Regarding the gold and mercury trade, the team inquired about where the gold is sold, where mercury is purchased, and its respective cost.
During the assessment, the team discovered that the six project sites are characterized by the presence of artisanal and small-scale gold miners who are unlicensed and largely using crude or basic equipment and skills. This makes them prone to various occupational health and safety hazards, with several cases of fatalities reported in the areas. A pertinent case in point is the fatal accident that befell the Jasho Mining Group in Isulu Location, Ikolomani Constituency, Kakamega County in early May, when loose and unsupported mine walls collapsed, resulting in the deaths of five miners.
The team was also keen to better comprehend the gender disaggregation of workers, communities and leadership; the occupation roles of men and women; and if there was unlawful involvement of children in gold processing. The health, safety and environmental impacts employed included checking if there are abandoned sites, whether miners use personal protective equipment (PPE), availability of social amenities, awareness of the dangers of mercury use, conditions and safety of gold shafts, and whether there are safety officers at sites.
One of the main goals of the project team was to gain a sense of how and why miners are using mercury and gauge their awareness of the dangers associated with its use. Nearly all the women - who are largely responsible for gold processing rather than mining due to cultural norms, which typically prohibit women entering mine shafts - handled mercury with bare hands. Similarly, gold buyers burnt the gold core in dark dingy rooms while inhaling the eminent fumes.
As part of the field visits, the team held preliminary awareness and sensitization sessions on the dangers of mercury use for miners. Using these lessons learnt from the mapping exercise, the team is planning on rolling out a campaign about the dangers of mercury dubbed: #SayNoToMercury. Capacity building on health, safety and effects of mercury at the mining sites is also in the pipeline as the project management unit is in the process of procuring PPE to help miners to stay safe.
Among the most important takeaways from the mapping exercise was learning that most miners know the dangers of mercury but have limited options as they need to support their families. They, however, would welcome an alternative. It is for this reason that planetGOLD Kenya project was launched; to help artisanal miners access funding that will be used to procure mercury free equipment.