CIRDI hosts Yukon ASM Fellowship

In the first two weeks of September, CIRDI hosted a fellowship mission that brought together 13 fellows representing their countries’ mining and environment ministries or small-scale mining associations. The fellows came from Ecuador, Peru, Ghana, Guyana and Ethiopia through the CIRDI fellowship program. The mission aimed to provide the fellows with field experience on approaches and practices to artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in the Yukon, and also to expose the delegates to the Yukon’s placer regime.

“Yukon is one of the few places that has a fully regulated small-scale mining sector,” said Elaine Pura, CIRDI’s Chief Executive Officer. “We want the delegates to learn from Yukon’s experience, both from what is working and what could be improved, and also from each other as they formulate policies and regulations to support their countries’ move to formalizing ASM.”

The fellowship mission received much support from the Yukon Government. Fellows learned about placer mining policy and regulatory systems from representatives from the Minerals Resources and Compliance, Monitoring and Inspections Branches, as well as from the Yukon Environment and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB), among others.

During their time in the territory, the delegates met with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elders. Much placer mining activity occurs in the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.

Visits to six mine sites gave delegates a chance to hear firsthand from Yukon miners about their methods of exploration, extraction, recovery, and reclamation. Of particular interest to many of the delegates was hearing about viable ways local miners recover gold without using mercury. Bringing both miners and government officials to active mine sites, and facilitating meetings with miners at those sites, is very beneficial for the development of policy and the enhancement of government capacity. The delegates represented miners, government inspectors and regulators, and policy advisors, among others—all these people brought technical expertise that framed their experience of the mine site visit and facilitated excellent dialogue with the miners and other delegates.

The Yukon Geological Survey (YGS) supported the fellowship by taking the delegates on tours to six mines. During a site visit geologist Sydney van Loon of the YGS explains a project that compiled and digitized information from historical geographical maps to assist miners in locating gold deposits.

The site visits in particular solicited questions about the viability of technology transfers to their different contexts.

“In Yukon, every miner develops his own technology,” said Dr. Girma Woldetinsae, Director, Research and Development Directorate of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Mines, Petroleum and Natural Gas. “That’s five generations of miners. But in Ethiopia we cannot do that and wait 100 years—five generations—to develop our resources. So the shortcut will be to work on the appropriate technologies.”

Dr. Girma Woldetinsae: “In Ethiopia we have to be very careful copying the technologies because the situation is very different.”

Take home message

Although ASM provides employment for millions in many of the world’s poorest communities, most miners operate outside of government regulatory oversight, without basic social or environmental safeguards. Effectively regulated small-scale mining can mitigate the negative consequences of the mining sector and reduce poverty. Harmful practices, such as mercury usage, can be challenged and changed with carefully targeted awareness raising programs for both miners and their communities. Change, though, takes time as well as a culture shift, and usually requires trust-building between miners and government regulators and policymakers.

One of the main takeaways for all the delegates is the back-to-work plan that each national team drew up to put the knowledge from their Yukon experiences into play when they returned home. Items were actionable and important for their country. When the teams presented their plans in Vancouver to close the mission, they told of plans to implement laws to reform illegal mining and gold trafficking, improve regulatory systems, and craft a business model to increase the value chain of the gold market.

“This fellowship was first of a kind in Canada, and we got some outstanding positive feedback from the delegates,” said Dr. Marie-Luise Ermisch, CIRDI Associate Director, Planning and Performance Management, and one of the fellowship’s organizers. “The fellowship demonstrated that there are many opportunities for Yukon placer mining stakeholders and those working in ASGM abroad to exchange knowledge and expertise.”

The Yukon ASM Fellowship closed off with two days in Vancouver where the delegates presented their back-to-work plans.

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