Pan with mercury and gold concentrate - photo credit Veejay Villfranca

Congo miners step towards sustainable gold production

  • The Republic of the Congo moves to reduce mercury pollution from its artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector
  • $10.5-million initiative will promote technical solutions, access to markets and finance for artisanal gold miners
  • Mercury pollution poses significant risks to human and environmental health



Brazzaville, 11 October 2022 – The Republic of the Congo has taken an important step towards a sustainable mining sector today, with the launch of a $10.5-million project to reduce the use of mercury by the nation’s artisanal miners.

Widely used in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASGM) to extract gold from ore, mercury is associated with serious health problems amongst miners, including nervous, digestive and immune system damage. Once released, mercury can travel far from its point of origin via the atmosphere, water bodies and food chains, posing a risk to health globally.

As many as 10,000 active miners directly depend on Congo’s ASGM sector for their livelihoods. Together, the country’s artisanal miners are responsible for the release of as much as 2.3 tonnes of mercury into the environment every year from both rudimentary and semi-mechanised refining operations.

The use of mercury in Congo is of particular concern given the nation’s global environmental significance. Sixty-five percent of the country is in the Congo Basin, Africa’s largest contiguous tropical forest. Home to one of every five species on our planet, the forest is one of world’s largest carbon sinks, sequestering more carbon than all the tropical forests of the Amazon and Asia combined – making the continued health of the forest vital to global climate stability.

With 92 percent of Congo’s gold miners operating informally, ASGM threatens the Congo Basin through both mercury contamination and illegal deforestation for mining expansion, endangering species and people alike.

Backed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) under the global planetGOLD programme and led by UNEP with the support of the Centre Africaine pour la Santé et l’Environnement (CASE), the Global Opportunities for the Long-term Development of the ASGM Sector project will encourage the uptake of mercury-free refining technologies in Congo’s artisanal and small-scale mining sector, while improving access to markets and finance for miners and reducing the industry’s environmental impact through sustainable landscape management practices.

“Reducing the use of mercury in ASGM operations and improving land management will be key in the protection of Congo’s abundance of natural resources, an issue that affects us all,” Ludovic Bernaudat, Head of UNEP’s GEF Chemicals and Waste Portfolio said.

The five-year initiative will help Congo’s policymakers strengthen institutional capacity and decision making, to improve policy and regulatory frameworks. Mining organizations will receive trainings to develop their financial literacy, as well as their knowledge on responsible mining initiatives. Moreover, ASGM communities will be provided capacity building programmes to improve formalization, given mercury-free processing equipment and linked to national suppliers and manufacturers of equipment for long-term support.

In conjunction, to align with the existing planetGOLD knowledge platform, domestic outreach strategies will promote ASGM within the formal economy and miners will have the opportunity to visit innovative sites to share common experiences and exchange best practices.

The commencement of the project marks the beginning of a formalized, professional and responsible ASGM sector in the Republic of the Congo – for a safer, cleaner and more profitable future.



About planetGOLD

The planetGOLD programme works in partnership with governments, the private sector, and artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) communities in 23 countries to significantly improve the production practices and work environment of artisanal and small-scale miners. By working to close the financing gap, supporting formalization, raising awareness, and connecting mining communities with mercury-free technology and formal markets, the programme aims to demonstrate a pathway to cleaner and more efficient small-scale gold mining practices that benefit everyone, from mine to market.

About the Global Environment Facility
The Global Environment Facility is the world’s largest funder of biodiversity protection, nature restoration, climate change response, and pollution reduction in developing countries. It finances international environmental conventions and country-driven initiatives that generate global benefits. The GEF partnership connects 184 member governments with civil society, Indigenous Peoples, and the private sector, and works closely with other environmental financiers for efficiency and impact. To date, the GEF has provided more than $22 billion in grants and blended finance and mobilized another $120 billion in co-financing for more than 5,000 national and regional projects, plus 27,000 community ventures through its Small Grants Programme.

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

For more information, please contact: 

Ludovic Bernaudat, Head of GEF Chemicals and Waste Portfolio, UNEP


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