Mining PS: Formalising sector will ensure safety, help save environment

Mining PS Elijah Mwangi (right) speaks after presiding over the inauguration of artisanal miners committees. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

If all goes as planned, rapid reforms to formalise the largely informal mining sector will go a long way in reducing the environmental harm experienced during mining.

This is according to the Principal Secretary, State Department for Mining in the Ministry of Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs.

Speaking in Kakamega where he flagged off artisanal mining committees charged with advising the ministry in licensing grassroots miners, PS Elijah Mwangi said the sector was looking at increasing efficiency, and profitability and avoiding environmental degradation related to mining.

“We have had to stop at least 1,500 people calling themselves miners because they were operating without a valid license. We called on them like anyone else to walk to any of our offices to be registered and issued with a license before they venture into the sector,” said Mwangi.

He went on: “We have the mining committees that are tasked with vetting artisanal miners and running co-operatives that will among other things ensure safe mining practices and environmental conservation.” 

Mining can cause erosion, sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, or the contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface water by chemicals emitted from mining processes. 

These processes also affect the atmosphere through carbon emissions which contribute to climate change, the PS told the mining committees from Migori (Rongo and Nyatike), Narok (Lolgorian), Turkana, Kakamega, Siaya, Marsabit, Samburu and West Pokot that were represented in the meeting in Kakamega.

The PS regretted that the country lost huge amounts in revenues by the sector remaining informal, besides exposing the mining fields to harsh climate change consequences.

He said the ministry had hired at least 365 additional officers to coordinate the reforms in the sector besides establishing labs across the country for testing minerals.

“We have also reviewed the Mining Act to introduce a mineral development levy where the developed and national government will get a share from minerals mined in the country,” he said.

Kakamega Deputy Governor Ayub Savula welcomed the move to formalise the sector saying it would add value to the region's economy which depends on mines.

“I know the sector looks at contributing at least 10 per cent to the GDP by 2030 and one way of making this attainable is to formalise mining in grassroots areas like Kakamega and the larger western mining circuit,” he said.

“It’s no secret we have lost many miners in the mines, especially during rainy seasons for lack of regulations. With a guideline that will define and recognise an artisanal miner, even their cooperatives, we are going to experience fewer accidents at the mines and get more mines which will translate to more profits.”

He said Kakamega County was ready to domesticate the Mining Act and use part of the royalties to preserve environmental degradation and mitigate against the climate crisis.

The mining sector has witnessed growth under the 2010 Constitution and the results would be tremendous with the full implementation of the Mining Act 2016 geared towards overhauling the sector.

The Act recommends that informal miners operate in registered mining committees set up in every county. That way, it will be easy for them to get financial partners who can loan them money to buy modern mining machines and get subsidised health coverage through their contributions. 

This would also give them a platform to lobby for their rights, sell gold and even get education on the best practices in mining, according to PS Mwangi.

Last year research by the  Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on Gold and governance shows legal artisanal and small-scale mining in Kenya contributed USD224 million to the Kenyan economy in 2022, representing over half of the country’s mining output. 

According to the organisation that works with partners to build knowledge and skills that enable sustainable peace, development and prosperity in Africa, the sector employs roughly 250,000 miners, 40 per cent of whom are women, and supports the livelihoods of over 800,000 people. 

However, when unregulated, as is the case in most parts of Kenya, it quickly becomes associated with crime, sexual violence, trafficking, conflict over resources and land, health and environmental hazards and corruption.

Ahmed Abdi Salaa of Wealth of Stone, an investor set to establish a Sh5 billion gold refinery in Kakamega said in a previous interview that part of his profits would go into rehabilitating mines and fighting the effects of climate change.

“We will also share the profits with the vulnerable so that we ensure no child remains at home due to poverty but take them to school to cut on school dropouts and child labour at gold mines,” he said.

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