As soon as you arrive at the Kayonza mine site, you can tell the flurry of activities represents perseverance, innovation, and commitment to safeguarding the livelihoods of the local community.
The site in Central Uganda’s Kassanda District, is well known for artisanal gold mining. The mine site is a hub with more than two mining areas that have 51 pits where ore is extracted. It has two processing centers and almost 30 processing plants. The Kitumbi-Kayonza Miners Association has more than 40 members including five directors and the mine produces between 1.5 kg to 2.5 kg gold monthly, depending on weather.
The planetGOLD Uganda project is working together with local communities to reduce the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, while improving the health and lives of local mining communities.
The planetGOLD Uganda team visited Kayonza mine site in August 2023. The project is visiting mine sites and meeting with artisanal gold miners to understand the sector and use of mercury across the country. While the team met with the Association and miners to learn more about their work, meetings with community leaders and other stakeholders provided important insight into the role the sector has in the wider communities.
When meeting with the planetGOLD Uganda project, Kassanda district leadership officials indicated that they too, are concerned about the effects of unsafe mining practices. They pointed to mining that has contributed to significant degradation of the environment. Particularly, the officials mentioned concerns around abandoned mine sites that erode the environment and mercury use that is dangerous to human health. Additionally, officials shared the community isn’t receiving its fair share of the benefits from the gold that the district produces.
Artisanal mining contributes more than 90 percent of gold production in Uganda, with more than 7,081 kg of gold mined artisanally per year. This means that the sector employs the highest number of gold miners in the country with more than 31,000 people working in artisanal gold mining. The sector is largely informal and mostly operates using rudimentary methods of extracting gold. However, the government, together with implementing agencies and civil society is working towards formalizing the sector and transitioning towards more responsible gold mining practices such as through the planetGOLD Uganda project.
Safety and protection
At Kayonza mine site, the Kayonza-Kitumbi Miners Association is already on the road towards supporting its members in the safer handling of mercury.
The Association has established a designated area where mercury is used and disposed of, known as an amalgamation area, to prevent contaminating water sources. While miners shared with the planetGOLD Uganda project team that they have tested alternatives to mercury such as borax, these methods weren’t as successful in providing high gold yields.
Despite these strides, the miners lack protective gear—including those who handle mercury or enter the mining pits.
The environment officer for Kassanda District told the planetGOLD Uganda team that miners need to be encouraged to wear protective equipment despite any reluctance.
Women are an important part of the artisanal gold mining sector. More than 45 percent of artisanal gold miners in Uganda are women. According to IMPACT’s research, artisanal gold mining is a lucrative income—with women earning three times more from gold mining than other income generating activities in their communities.
However, the sector, is yet to fully include women and make working spaces more inclusive. Women tend to take on less paid activities at the mine site or are paid less than men for the same tasks. In Kayonza, women mainly purchase gold ore, crush it by hand, and wash it using mercury.
Importantly, the Kayonza-Kitumbi Miners Association is empowering its members to be compliant with Uganda’s mining regulations, as well as strengthening their capacity within the supply chain. For instance, members borrow money from large companies that buy the gold to process gold and pay back upon selling. Being able to borrow money is made possible because the Association has a valid permit, has registered all its members, and is ensuring compliance with Association rules, a big step towards formalization of the sector. As such, miners are not forced out of the sector due to lack of capital. The association has also opened a savings and credit cooperative (SACCO) for its members, which will become active once sensitization across the community is finished.
The planetGOLD Uganda’ project's Focus
The harmony between responsible mining and environmental preservation will be planetGOLD Uganda’s goal in 11 mine sites, including in Kayonza, for the next five years. The project will work together with local communities to reduce the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining while improving the health and lives of local mining communities.
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.