Is a cleaner, greener artisanal gold mining that is healthier for everyone possible?

“The opinions expressed in this publication are exclusively those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of the Alliance for Responsible Mining, its Board of Directors or its technical team.”
Maria Sacchetti´s article, Coordinator of medicusmundi in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

Namuno, one of the districts of the southern region of the Cabo Delgado province – located in north Mozambique – has a gold-rich subsurface. This is, however, nothing compared to what it was back in the day according to artisanal miners of the region, when gold was much more abundant. Each passing day it is necessary to dig deeper and use more complex machinery to reach the gold.

Most miners come together to form associations, try to get legalized through the Ministry of Mineral Resources, and practices mining in areas under concession of the Government, avoiding problems with the authorities in this way. But legalization is not an easy process – it requires money and the ability to do the paperwork required by bureaucracy. Some associations work jointly with small companies or investors, which supply them with equipment (machinery), fuel, and buy the extracted gold from them.

Every human activity has an impact on the land, and artisanal mining is linked to social, environmental and health issues. The use of mercury for extraction, as well as the illegal trade in this chemical and in gold, are some of the problems that we have been attempting to mitigate since 2017 with the Artisanal Mining: Environmental and Cultural Rights in Cabo Delgado project here at medicusmundi, in association with the Centro Terra Viva local NGO and the Danish Diálogos NGO, funded by the European Union. One of the project’s objectives is to increasingly introduce alternative gold extraction methods that do not use mercury. Among the various alternatives, and considering the poverty that exists in the region and the limited access to advanced technology, medicusmundi is encouraging the use of a gravitational extraction method, by which a concentrate is obtained, which requires the use of small amounts of sodium borate (borax), thereby avoiding the use of mercury not only in Namuno and Cabo Delgado, but throughout the entire planet.

It is estimated that 40% of the planet’s mercury pollution is the result of artisanal mining. Throughout the project, miners, as well as local authorities, technical health professionals and community leaders, receive environmental and health training in relation to the artisanal mining sector. In February of 2018, miners from four associations were trained in an alternative mineral processing method that consists of alternative gravimetric concentration techniques combined with the direct use of borax in the concentrate (which worked efficiently in the studied mineral environment) for the smelting and recovery of metallic gold. The necessary materials were provided, stations were built, and the clean extraction operation was set in motion with the four associations. The project also provides legal advice to the miners’ associations in relation to the bureaucratic and legal matters that they need to attend to during the legalization processes, and informs them of their obligations and rights.

One year after these trainings, the miners’ associations have a positive view of the results. They say that the resulting gold is cleaner and that no gold is wasted in the process, which means that profitability is higher. The training sessions on the impact of mercury in health appears to have raised awareness on the matter among miners. They all state that they have abandoned the use of mercury and prefer to keep working with borax. The difficulties to obtain borax that we had identified in the early stages have gradually been resolved, and the complementary materials that they need have been built and adapted. For example, the traditional air blower is built by themselves, and the cloth filter has been replaced by small sisal bags. Imagination and inventiveness to overcome obstacles.

With the promotion of this alternative method and the discontinuation of mercury, in addition to the environmental and health advantages for the population, other illegal practices, as well as the presence of mercury black market traders, are minimized.

More information about our efforts in Mozambique at

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