Impacts of Covid-19 on Artisanal and Small Scale Mining: Case study Kilifi County Kenya

Impacts of Covid-19 on Artisanal and Small Scale Mining: Case study Kilifi County Kenya
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COVID-19: The Fate of Manganese Artisanal and Small Scale Miners in Kilifi

Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale Counties have been identified as redzones due to high number of COVID-19 positive cases. Photo courtesy of The Star

The impacts of COVID-19 in the mining industry have been immediate and immense. The effects vary in magnitude from the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) to large scale mining companies in Kenya. Whereas its implication was anticipated to be minimal at the start, the virus has put everyone in scare mode and mine development plans have in one way or another been disrupted. Kenya has so far (by 9th April 2020) confirmed 184 cases, with 12 recoveries and 7 fatalities.

The government has issued various directives to help combat the spread of the virus. The directives range from close down of schools and universities, suspension of all international passenger flights to Kenya (effected from 25 March), ban on social gathering to people been encouraged to work from home. A national curfew order has also been effected since 27th March, prohibiting non-essential movements between 7pm and 5am. The government further issued a 21-day ban on non-essential movements in and out of the counties of: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale, effective Monday 6th April at 19:00 (local time). These counties have been identified as redzones due to high number of COVID-19 positive cases.

The ASM industry has not been spared either as the County Governments were directed to shut down operations of all non-essential businesses (which as the case in Kenya) includes the ASM operations. Kilifi County which lies in the coastal strip of Kenya was among the first counties to record infections of Covid-19. This necessitated intervention measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. With mining industry being classified as producing non-essential items, a moratorium was issued by the County Government to close all the mining activities in the County. Notably, Kilifi is a mineral rich County with mineral extraction activities ranging from manganese, iron ore, salt, lead, coral blocks and salt extraction as well as cement processing.

Direct Impacts

Closure of the mines has had immediate impacts on the lives of the ASM direct and indirect dependants. Engineer Samuel M. Gitahi who is a Mineral Industry Consultant working in the area noted some of the direct impacts:

Manganese sorting in progress

Loss of Jobs: Mining industry is labor intensive and commands at least 30% of employment opportunities in this County. Issuance of the moratorium has led to immediate loss of jobs to vulnerable groups like contracts and day workers. This is a big blow to both the employees and their dependants. Most of the employees are casual laborers who depend on daily wages to purchase personal effects. As a result, they have lost their only source of revenue with an indefinite waiting period.

Loss of revenue: Artisanal miners and small scale miners have been directly affected by moratorium. Whereas large scale companies can leverage their insurance or accumulated stocks to caution them for several months, artisanal miners have been hard hit. The small scale miners in iron ore, manganese and coral blocks quarries can’t meet their daily bread since they directly depend on daily sale of their produce. Most ASM-dependent communities often lack savings hence it will be difficult to access essential commodities without going to work.

Loss & Cancellation of contracts: This is eminent in the manganese extraction since it’s produced purely for export to China and India. The small scale miners have lost existing contracts with buyers who anticipated deliveries in the month of April after a prolonged delay in delivery before China New Year in January and thereafter continued slump of global manganese metal market.

Income loss and additional operational expenditure: Artisanal and small scale companies are experiencing income loss at this unprecedented time from unsold materials. Most of them had acquired loan products to fund small extraction equipment namely: grinders, generators, wheel loaders, backhoes and screeners to support them in increasing their production. They are not only unable to repay the loan but they also experience increased operational expenses in terms of storage and security during this period of moratorium.

Immediate Actions

A miner at work in one of the sites

If well managed, the mining industry both small and large scale can provide a lifeline to its dependents in such times of crisis. Better mineral resource management and emergency preparedness at all levels is not an option anymore. Currently, there is an obvious need for greater awareness raising about COVID-19 in mining communities. Sensitization is required to help the communities understand that the lockdown is for personal health protection and help them understand the WHO guidelines to prevent COVID-19 transmission. It is also important to include the ASM-dependent communities in governmental/ non-government relief programs to caution them against adverse effects of mining lockdown.  This pandemic has also exposed the need to have saving schemes and alternative sources of income among the artisanal miners for sustainability purposes.

Let us not forget to respect health standards such as washing hands, keeping a safe distance, staying at home as much as you can and wearing a facemask whenever in public. Cover your cough and if sick please call ahead. Together shall overcome.

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