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An Exciting Step Towards a Shared Research-Policy Agenda in “Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining”

By Danny Tobin

On June 23, the Duke Professors William Pan (NSOE, DGHI), Alexander Pfaff (Sanford), and Heileen Hsu-Kim (Pratt) held a workshop called “Bridging Policy, Research, and Implementation in ASGM” in collaboration with Professor Adam Kiefer (Mercer University), PureEarth Colombia, and the US Department of State. The goal of the workshop was to initiate a new community-building effort to facilitate collaboration in the Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sector by both disseminating information that exists but has not been widely accessible and generating information by bringing together stakeholders to initiate high-impact research efforts to close gaps where information does not yet exist. The workshop, sponsored by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions (NIEPS) and Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS), convened stakeholders from academia, NGOs, industry, government, and international organizations to identify the most pressing questions in the ASGM sector.

The workshop started by having each participant join a small group of stakeholders to raise key challenges that hinder progress in the thematic areas of Processing / Technology, Health, Economics, Social, and Governance. These challenges were then shared with all the workshop participants, with each group reporting discussion highlights. By challenge, small groups were then reconvened to identify additional experts and organizations to join this ASGM community of scholars and practitioners and to participate in future “deep-dive” workshops by challenge.

Several important themes emerged from the small-group discussions: the concern that global goals to eliminate mercury from ASGM by 2025 might be blocking feasible, short-run steps to reduce mercury and improve overall human and environmental health outcomes in the sector; whether ASGM can be an engine for sustainable development; needed mechanisms to enhance collaboration between diverse sets of actors in ASGM; the requirement for ASGM research and interventions to be locally-tailored but reinforced by incentives and policies at multiple higher levels of governance and across the supply chain; and the need to honestly and transparently learn from ASGM successes and failures. Across all of these well-informed groups, stakeholders called for additional evidence to help guide decision-making and for improved sharing of all the existing evidence, so that ASGM communities can be better informed in pursuing their agendas.

To continue along the paths of facilitating improved information-sharing as well as ongoing collaborations across ASGM stakeholders, the Duke organizers will publicly share the refined list of questions and the experts ‘rolodex’ that were crowdsourced from this group. These lists will eventually be hosted on a Wiki-style website that can be updated by all stakeholders over time. This Fall a Bass Connections Team composed of 10 Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral students (led by Pan, Pfaff and Hsu-Kim) will further develop these questions into independent pages that highlight the work that has been done and unanswered questions in each subtopic area.

Besides creating an ASGM wiki, organizers will also host a number of policy-action and research workshop series.  These sets of workshops will convene small groups of technical experts and local decision-makers to discuss interventions, policy solutions and challenges to issues like the treatment of contaminated tailings, interdependency of coca cultivation and ASGM markets, and the remediation of mercury in riverbeds – each within specific geographic ASGM contexts. These meetings will support local action plans based upon the best evidence available today. The workshop series will also include broader public seminars where experts and organizations present on the state of work and knowledge in certain thematic areas. These seminars allow the ASGM community to continue to define a shared research and policy agenda in ASGM.

In sum, this ASGM kick-off workshop was the first step in a longer process to build a community of informed practitioners dedicated to reducing the human and the environmental impacts of mining and mercury exposure.  We welcome all interested stakeholders to participate in future workshops and be included in our updates to send an email to sends e-mail).