BAMAKO Dec 14 The amount of gold dug up by
people working informally in Mali could soon rival official
production thanks to demand from domestic refineries, officials
in the West African nation say.
The informal sector's sudden growth, defying opposition from
major commercial operators, is a major boost to an economy
suffering from years of political instability. Mali's government
derives about a quarter of its revenues from gold.
It is Africa's third-largest gold miner behind South Africa
and Ghana, and artisanal mines contributed a third of the 70.2
tonnes of gold it exported in 2015.
Informal sector growth accelerated in 2012, when Islamists
hijacked a separatist Tuareg rebellion in the desert north,
throwing the country into chaos.
As the economy flagged under sanctions from its neighbours,
farmers and others began digging for gold.
The Chamber of Mines now estimates that more than a million
artisanal miners work at about 350 sites, producing between 10
and 15 tonnes of gold a year.
Government export statistics put output from artisanal mines
at 23.7 tonnes in 2015. Since not all gold is declared, the real
production figure could be higher.
"We think that if we organise it, (artisanal mining) could
produce as much gold as the big industrial companies," said the
president of the Chamber of Mines, Abdoulaye Pona.
Mali's largest gold refinery, Kankou Moussa, owned by Swiss
Bullion Co., can produce 100 kg per day and sources most of its
gold from an artisanal mining site in the southwest.
"Our principal target is artisanal miners, notably those
organised in cooperatives, as well as small and medium-sized
mines," said director of operations Carlos Novo. By his
calculations, artisanal miners in Mali might currently produce
36 tonnes of gold a year.
But Mali's artisanal boom faces opposition from industrial
operators. Mark Bristow, the CEO of Randgold Resources,
which owns three major mines in Mali, has warned that the
activity could drive companies to leave.
"They (artisanal miners) illegally occupy sites within
companies' permits...they use mechanised means, there are even
small industries that produce gold without declaring anything,"
Bristow told a news conference in the capital Bamako earlier
The largely unregulated sector is plagued by fatal
accidents, smuggling, child labour and environmental damage. The
government announced plans in 2014 to supervise operations and
give miners easier access to financing, but progress has been
Australia's Resolute Mining Ltd and Endeavour
Mining also have operations in Mali.
(Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Aaron Ross/Ruth