The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted gold supply lines around the world. That disruption, along with the recent uncertainty around global health security, has dealt the artisanal gold miners of Burkina Faso a severe blow. Prior to the pandemic, local gold prices in Burkina Faso were 94 percent of international gold prices. After COVID-19 hit the nation in March, local prices fell to just 55 percent of international gold prices.
Artisanal gold mining has continued in Burkina Faso, though more slowly than before the pandemic. Measures to control the spread of the virus, such as curfews, social distancing and even police violence and raids by national security guards, have slowed the pace of gold panning. This means the miners have even less opportunity to make a livable income.
Why It Matters
Of the over 20 million people in Burkina Faso, over 430,000 are directly employed in the artisanal gold mining industry. Most of the miners have little education and rely on mining to provide for themselves and their families. The miners include both men and women, with studies estimating that between 40 and 50 percent are female. Women run most of the hangars in which the gold is processed. These women are known as Tãngpogse and have enjoyed more economic freedom than many women.
The disruptions caused by COVID-19 put all of these artisanal gold miners at risk. Even before the pandemic, 45 percent of people in Burkina Faso survived on less than the U.S. $1.25 per day. Artisanal mining is an industry employed by people trying to escape poverty. Now, instead of realizing that dream, miners are facing uncertainty and hunger.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 crisis is piling on top of other crises in Burkina Faso—jihadist violence in the north, and drought throughout much of the country. In the face of this complicated situation, many gold miners are struggling to feed themselves and their families. Many find that they must sell their gold at low prices to predatory buyers, in order to generate an income. If the situation worsens, the miners could find themselves increasingly desperate, and willing to turn to banditry or prostitution for income.
How World Agencies Are Helping
Two world agencies have stepped in to provide relief for artisanal miners. The first, the World Bank, has created an emergency relief fund for artisanal miners around the globe. According to Reuters, the fund already has $5 million in donations, with a goal of $15 million. This money will aid miners of various materials in different countries, not just Burkina Faso. Still, the World Bank’s effort is an important one. World agencies rarely aim for emergency relief at artisanal miners specifically.
The second world agency, the Artisanal Gold Council, is an NGO based in Canada. The Artisanal Gold Council has focused specifically on the artisanal gold miners of Burkina Faso and has purchased gold directly from them at the pre-pandemic rate. This business provides miners with much-needed income and should help to ease some of the economic stress they are under. As with the World Bank’s emergency relief fund, the Artisanal Gold Council’s actions are rare for an NGO; other organizations consider the money and effort necessary to bring artisanal gold into formal channels of the trade too high of a price to pay.
Aid from these world agencies should improve the artisanal miners’ economic situation. Still, the high poverty rate and continuing cases of COVID-19 in Burkina Faso remain causes for concern. As of July 1, Burkina Faso had reported a total of 962 cases of COVID-19, and 53 deaths from the virus. As the pandemic’s effects linger on, the miners will need more help to finally achieve their dreams of climbing out of poverty.
– Emily Dexter