The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge
Transforming Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining for
Water and Biodiversity Conservation
Artisanal & Small-Scale Mining
Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is a critical source of livelihood for an estimated 40+ million people worldwide. While ASM generates wealth in developing countries, ASM practices can cause habitat loss, species’ population decline, poor water quality, hydrological changes, and negative human health & livelihood impacts. Mining is among the most significant drivers of deforestation in the world’s tropical forests, a leading cause of global biodiversity loss.
While defined differently across countries, ASM generally refers to mining operations with predominantly simplified forms of exploration, extraction, processing, and transportation. These operations are often labor intensive, low-tech, receive limited investment, and require less expertise than medium and large-scale mining operations. ASM operations can be formal or informal, legal or illegal.
The global demand for materials—such as gold, rare earth metals, conflict minerals (tin, tantalum, and tungsten), cobalt, and colored gemstones—continues to grow exponentially due to society’s increasing appetite for consumer electronics and jewelry. These materials enter global supply chains through both ASM and large-scale/industrial mining operations. However, ASM is a significant source of many critical minerals and metals. Globally, ASM supplies 15-20% of diamonds, 15-20% of gold, and 70-80% of colored gemstones. Twenty-percent of the global cobalt supply is acquired through ASM. Demand for cobalt is projected to increase substantially as societal demands grow for lithium-ion batteries, which require cobalt, to power our everyday lives.
The Grand Challenge Spotlight: ASGM in the Amazon
Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is responsible for ~40% of the world’s mercury pollution. Conservation X Labs and Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation visited La Pampa, a region in the Peruvian Amazon devastated by illegal ASGM to witness the impacts firsthand.
The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge
Prevent, Remediate, Restore Sub-Challenge
ASM on-site solutions. The Prevent, Remediate, Restore Sub-Challenge seeks breakthrough innovations that are implemented at ASM sites to prevent, remediate, or restore impacts from ASM to water, hydrology, land, biodiversity, human health, and/or ecosystems.
The environmental and health impacts of ASM activities differ by commodity and location. ASM operations tend to use the most accessible (i.e. inexpensive, readily available, traditional) methods to mine materials. These methods are not always environmentally responsible, healthy, safe, cost-effective, or efficient. This Sub-Challenge seeks solutions that prevent anthropogenic sources of toxic contaminants such as mercury and other heavy metals from entering the environment; remediate or restore the land; reduce changes to hydrological functions and water quality; reduce habitat loss for terrestrial and aquatic species in core biodiversity regions such as dry and wet tropical forests in the Amazon, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia; and reduce negative human health impacts and other social costs.
2. Reform Supply Chains Sub-Challenge
Solutions downstream from ASM sites. The Reform Supply Chains Sub-Challenge seeks innovations that significantly reduce the social and environmental costs of commodities sourced through ASM, downstream from the ASM sites.
ASM materials are common in our devices, jewelry, and many other everyday products. Demand for these materials is predicted to continue to grow substantially. Innovations in this Sub-Challenge may be applied at any point along the ASM supply chain. For example, they may increase transparency along the supply chain, transform the financing mechanisms for ASM, or drive consumer demand and behavior toward responsibly sourced materials. Innovations should demonstrate measurable, attributable impact on reducing or eliminating harm to water resources, soil, biodiversity, and/or human health and well-being.
3. The Global Data Sub-Challenge
Information solutions on-site and downstream from ASM sites. The Global Data Sub-Challenge seeks solutions that measure the environmental and social impacts of ASM and equip people with tools to improve the environmental and social outcomes of ASM practices.
This Sub-Challenge seeks solutions to improve the process of collecting and communicating data regarding who, what, where and how different commodities are being mined along the supply chain. Solutions should drive ASM toward being a more environmentally and socially responsible industry and focus on at least one of the following: decreasing the cost of data collection, increasing the ease of data collection, enhancing the accessibility of data, and/or improving the actionability of the data. In all cases, the data must be directly relevant to improvements in ASM practices and/or impacts.