Artisan gold mining (ASM) is a poverty inducing activity which involves the extraction of small deposits with low rates of recovery and high negative environmental impacts.
ASM is practiced by poverty-driven subsistence miners using rudimentary techniques. It is estimated that 100 million people are associated with the practice worldwide. It can either be a full time activity or a seasonal venture, often combined with working in agriculture.
The majority of these operations are considered to be illegal and the majority of countries in which it takes place have little, if any, legislation acknowledging the practice. However, the contribution of ASM cannot be overlooked, creating huge numbers of jobs.
The greatest issue to plague ASM is the use of mercury. It creates severe health issues, catastrophic environmental damage, and creates a crippling financial burden for the miners. Mercury is absorbed into the soil, rivers and streams, and can subsequently be taken up into the food chain, primarily through aquatic life, often a major part of the diet of those living and working in the communities.
ASM has become a cycle of poverty for its practitioners. A major driving factor to this is the existence of middlemen who purchase gold well below market value from the miners, then sell them mercury at a huge profit. The miners then become trapped by exclusive agreements to their middlemen.
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