Project Access: Professionalising ASGM in Kenya and Uganda

Addressing mercury use, lack of market access, gender inequality and other challenges in East Africa

Gold-rich deposits in the Lake Victoria region in East Africa have created livelihoods for thousands of low-income communities in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector. Yet the cost has been huge. Miners use mercury to process ore, a method that’s both inefficient and vastly detrimental to health.

As well as the issue of mercury use, there is often a gender income disparity as women traditionally occupy roles in gold processing that are less lucrative than positions normally held by men, such as ore extraction. In addition, mining often yields an inconsistent income, with productivity issues, a reliance on prices set by traders, and an inherent element of luck contributing to what can often be an unreliable livelihood.

In some cases this can cause people to resort to child labour to make productivity economically sustainable, which in the long-term can deny children access to education, condemning them to working unskilled, low-income jobs as adults.

Many of the issues in ASM are deep-rooted, and represent challenges that can best be addressed by taking a broader, supply-chain-wide perspective. Centred around the Lake Victoria region, we have helped to bring together a unique multi-stakeholder partnership at a local, national and international level that addresses problems systemically by uncovering underlying causes and applying appropriate practical solutions.

Far-reaching problems that demand coordinated and collaborative solutions

The Project Access comprises a consortium of partners with expertise all along the gold supply chain, including The Chambers Federation, Fairphone, The Fairtrade Foundation, Solidaridad, TDi Sustainability, and The Impact Facility. From mine to market, our partnership has proven experience working with communities that depend on ASM; local traders that bring gold to regional markets; mid-stream actors that help industries such as electronics and automotive manufacturers source gold for their products. As part of this programme, we also collaborate with our local implementation partners in order to invest in the (ASM) gold producing regions of Kenya and Uganda.

The Project Access made possible through the financial support of the EPRM

Our work is co-financed by the European Partnership for Responsible Minerals (EPRM), which is providing the second cycle of funding to allow us to continue the first phase of our efforts in Kenya and Uganda for four more years until the end of 2024. The central mandate of the EPRM is to increase the proportion of responsibly sourced minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, in accordance with European Union regulation, in addition to supporting efforts of the international community to phase out the use of mercury.

Our Objectives

The Project Access plans on identifying mines this year through a series of outreach events and through collaboration with local authorities. Leveraging investments and strategic partnerships with equipment leasing specialists already operating in the region, the consortium also has plans to invest in mining equipment, ultimately bridging the gap between miners and scaling up production.

  • Increasing the health and safety conditions of mines through technical training to raise awareness of the negative environmental impacts of mining and how to mitigate them
  • Boosting profitability and productivity by enabling access to mechanised mine equipment
  • Linking miners to formal supply chains to ensure fair pricing for miners and the legality of subsequent trade, following the principle of fair value distribution
  • Seeking to leverage opportunities for local value addition making jewellery for the national market as well as export
  • Beyond this, a commitment to integrate responsible gold from the project into international electronics supply chains, such as Fairphone’s – without relying on a premium pricing model

Our Approach

Facilitating investment, formalisation support, increased ESG performance, market access and supply chain integration

Our consortium uses a business-led, productivity-first approach, which aims to enable and incentivise safer and more environmentally responsible working conditions to scale up production and provide miners with formal access to domestic and foreign markets.  Each partner plays a unique role that best places them to leverage their expertise, all the way from supporting production and formalisation, to trade and even final use in jewellery and electronics:

Transforming communities active in artisanal and small-scale mining

After comprehensive due diligence is conducted and mines are confirmed as investment-ready, equipment is provided through a customisable lease-to-purchase model, with built-in flexibility to accommodate periods of low productivity.

The Impact Facility’s model of continuous improvement – The Impact Escalator – gives mines access to the investment finance they need to purchase the modern extractive and processing equipment required to run efficient, productive, and profitable operations. The Impact Escalator is aligned with all ASM sustainability standards and is in accordance with frameworks such as the well-known CRAFT code for risk mitigation when engaging with ASM. Through this ASM communities are able to overcome one of the greatest barriers they face as conventional investors are reluctant to invest in operations that can struggle to maintain continuous production, and which usually exist within the informal economy.

In collaboration with the project partners, The Impact Facility will help facilitate miners access a route to market for their gold.

  • Engaging with and assessing mine sites interested in mine investment opportunities
  • Conducting due diligence on mines and developing continuous improvement plans aimed at boosting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance
  • Introducing a lease-to-purchase model to facilitate the provision of mine equipment
  • Capacity building through technical training and support
  • Monitoring mine performance and managing lease payments
Bringing supply chain actors together to improve production, supporting the transition to a sustainable and inclusive economy

Solidaridad will provide capacity building and provide technical assistance to miners in alignment with The Impact Facility’s efforts in raising awareness on responsible, sustainable, and environmentally friendly mining practices, supporting the mines in making improvements, and monitoring those improvements.

  • Engage and collaborate with local mining government offices in efforts to reach miners
  • Utilising their network and experience in East Africa to leverage similar existing projects
  • Gender mainstreaming, sensitisation and training
  • Support environmental, health, and safety performance of mines
  • Develop a sustainable gold supply chain, with a focus on the local part of the supply chain
Impact investment driving social change and innovation to create sustainable business models, with a focus on former conflict zones and women’s empowerment

Having been the only US-registered entity allowed to export gold from the DRC, the Chambers Federation plans on establishing a similar gold aggregation and value-addition programme in Kenya through collaboration with mines under Project Access. In addition, their considerable experience in building local enterprises places the Chambers Federation in a good position to assist mining communities in obtaining the necessary mining permits to operate legally.

  • Gold aggregation through local buying centres that will purchase gold directly from miners as part of a wider effort to establish an export model roadmap
  • Mine formalisation support
  • Value-addition of gold through locally manufactured jewellery
  • Promote sourcing opportunities
  • Develop a sustainable gold supply chain
Connecting disadvantaged farmers and workers with consumers, promoting fairer trading conditions and empowering farmers and workers to combat poverty

As one of the first movers in the responsible ASM sector, The Fairtrade Foundation brings a decade of experience on how to engage with artisanal miners and how to tell their story to downstream brands and end-users alike.

Leveraging its network, expertise, and infrastructure, The Fairtrade Foundation will support the Project Access in its ambition of establishing credible market claims and a robust chain of custody system that will allow us to preserve the identity of gold sourced from our programme. 

  • Develop model and guidelines for developing responsible gold supply chain.
The world’s most sustainable smartphone that cares for people and planet

Following the initial phase of the Project Access, Fairphone will begin to offtake gold from the second year of operations onwards in order to integrate responsible gold into their supply chain.

This will allow Fairphone to continue setting the standard for ethical materials sourcing in the electronics industry, which relies on an array of metals from across the global supply chain.

  • Integrate responsibly produced gold into Fairphone’s supply chain
  • Develop downstream business model connecting to the international market

A summary overview of our work under the EPRM is contained in a brochure on the Project Access, which will shortly be available for download.

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