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Formalizing Mongolia’s Artisanal Mining Sector

December 3, 2014

By Jonathan Stacey

With the appointment of Mongolia’s new prime minister, Saikhanbileg Chimed, in November, expectations are high for the further development of Mongolia’s mining industry, which accounts for 18.5 percent of the country’s GDP.

While large-scale mining operations often make headlines, as The Asia Foundation’s Bolormaa Purevjav recently wrote in this blog, there are an estimated 100,000 small-scale artisanal miners who work independently and make up nearly 20 percent of Mongolia’s rural workforce. However, due to perceptions around the negative impact that their mining activities have on the environment, they are marginalized from society, further preventing them from achieving full economic potential and, crucially, from developing more sustainable environmental practices.

Mongolia artisanal miners

While large-scale mining operations often make headlines, there are an estimated 100,000 small-scale artisanal miners who work independently and make up nearly 20 percent of Mongolia’s rural workforce. Photo/: Marieke Heemskerk

Recently, however, better government recognition of artisanal miners’ large role in society, as well as an increase in public awareness, that perception is slowly changing. As a result Mongolia’s artisanal miners are gradually becoming more formalized and recognized as important contributors to the economy. In order to maintain and scale-up this progress toward greater formalization, the artisanal mining sector needs to better address its negative environmental impacts.

Mongolia legally recognized artisanal and small-scale mining in 2010 but failed to provide for effective regulatory tools to ensure environmental performance with respect to effective rehabilitation of degraded land. This was a significant shortfall that was necessary for environmental formalization to be addressed.

The Asia Foundation – with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation through our Engaging Stakeholders in Environmental Conservation Project Phase II (ESEC II) – aims to mitigate environmental impacts from historic and current artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in Mongolia by building environmental capacity within the sector. We’re now working to increase formalization through the development of a frugal rehabilitation methodology – a practical tool that, through eventual formal endorsement by national stakeholders, can provide the sector and the government with an accepted industry standard.

So how does frugal rehabilitation differ from more standard approaches to the rehabilitation of land degraded by mining? A high level definition of frugal rehabilitation is that it be economically affordable to the artisanal and small-scale mining sector and to local government. It also needs to be socially acceptable, addressing the concerns and interests of the wider communities within which mining is occurring. Lastly and importantly, it needs to be ecologically viable so that the rehabilitated land can be used sustainably.

In order to develop a methodology that could win broad acceptance across both national and local stakeholders, the project incorporated practical approaches that met the above defining criteria at eight project sites across Mongolia. Such pilot sites were selected out of 12 areas of degraded and abandoned lands that had experienced informal artisanal mining activities for gold and fluorspar, two of the widespread forms of ASM in Mongolia. The majority of sites were areas where alluvial mining had occurred – the dominant form of gold mining in the country. However both hard-rock gold and fluorspar mining areas were also chosen to ensure that the resulting methodology was applicable to such situations. The eight pilot sites were also spread across a range of ecological zones typical of Mongolia, from tall grass steppe in the east, to forest and forest steppe in the north, to mountain and desert steppe in the south and west.

The pilot sites for frugal rehabilitation demonstration were assessed and eventually selected through a collaborative process with national ministries and agencies, and with the participation of local environmental inspectors in each case. At the beginning of pilot site assessment and selection, we recruited a team of national experts who provided advice to the ASM NGOs who led the rehabilitation demonstration project work. The team also advised on the development of the methodology that was being informed by these practical demonstrations undertaken at the sites. Memorandums of Understanding were developed with aimag (provincial) and soum (local) governments, to ensure that the process of rehabilitation demonstration was both formal and collaborative.

With such MoUs and contracts in place, the rehabilitation projects began in early July extending through October 2014, supported by a busy field schedule of training, monitoring, and evaluation activities. Such visits were designed to provide training in affordable technical and biological rehabilitation techniques carried out by ASM NGOs, in order to develop a framework upon which the Frugal Rehabilitation Methodology (FRM) could be developed. Technical rehabilitation addressed the infilling of pits and shafts to a safe, affordable and agreeable standard, followed by regrading and reprofiling of materials and the distribution of available top soils to prepare the way for biological rehabilitation. Training in and implementation of biological rehabilitation techniques refocused on appropriate topsoil placement, and the identification of vegetation types that were appropriate to ecological region. Regional vegetation types informed the identification of target rehabilitation and successional species that were the focus of local seed collection and dispersal efforts by ASM NGOs.

After local government environmental inspectors evaluated the demonstration sites, a Frugal Rehabilitation Methodology was drafted, informed by the lessons learned from across all demonstration projects and supported by detailed case studies.

The resulting draft methodology was referred to our Project Advisory Committee (PAC), chaired by the Ministry of Mining, in mid-November and a consultative workshop held with a wider range of stakeholders later that month. A variety of positive and helpful feedback was received through this process and will be incorporated into the draft, which will be referred to PAC in early in 2015. This places the methodology in a strong position to be incorporated into the revision of the government’s Minerals Regulation for Small-Scale Mining currently underway. If successful, the ASM sector can potentially look forward to an endorsed Frugal Rehabilitation Methodology that will provide key technical support to the development and demonstration of environmental best practice by the ASM sector.

Jonathan Stacey manages The Asia Foundation’s Engaging Stakeholders in Environmental Conservation Project Phase II. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Mongolia
Related programs: Environment and Climate Action, Good Governance, Inclusive Economic Growth
Related topics: Civic Spaces

1 Comment

  1. The complexity of environmental management in Artisanal mining industry call for constant innovations to meet the realities on the ground. Wow, thanks for the bold step. We will be following up for future developments on the Frugal rehabilitation strategy.

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