Stakeholders in the mining sector are calling for the enforcement of regulations and laws to curb illicit mining especially by foreigners who encroach on mining communities.
During a training for Artisanal Miners and Small-Scale Miners (ASM) held in Bopulu, Gbarpolu County 6-7 July 2022, they recommended capacity support and an increase in the number of rangers in protected areas, proper checks and balances in the sector, increased awareness on new policies and reforms in the mining law, the need to encourage miners to legally obtain licenses and for local leadership to take ownership of the sector by participating in monitoring and reporting on the protection of their environment.
According to a UNDP release, the training on environmental & social safeguards, legal framework & promotion of participatory monitoring was organized by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in partnership with the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) supported by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and UNDP Liberia’s Environmental Governance Project.
Elders, local leaders and artisanal miners used a newly developed ASM handbook to gain knowledge on driving community stewardship in promoting environmental governance and monitoring in ASM communities and to build upon existing local governance structures that are gender balanced.
“There are horrifying stories of environmental degradation that require the urgent involvement of local government and community structures,” said the President of the Federation of Artisanal Miners of Liberia- Thomas Cassell.
Cassell urged local leaders to help sensitize artisanal miners to abide by the laws put in place by the government and become positive change agents in the conservation of the forests and protection of the environment for future generations.
Participants discussed the effects of deforestation, miners' rights & obligations, human rights violations, sexual exploitation and abuse in the ASM sector, protection of child rights, the effects of mercury, how to obtain ASM license, good practices of mining, taxes and royalty, how to protect the environment among others.
Artisanal and small-scale mining has become an important sector for the government and its people. It provides jobs for more than two hundred thousand (200,000) people mostly in rural communities. Over the years, the sector has been pruned to mining accidents and other issues affecting the communities.
“Small scale artisanal mining is becoming both a national security issue and a major social problem in the country. Foreigners facilitated by some Liberians are venturing into Liberia’s forests and engaging in illicit mining activities that would eventually endanger the lives and livelihoods of poor populations if the government does not enforce regulations,” Assistant Mines and Energy Minister Johnson Willabo stated at the training.
Willabo said the Government is working with its partners including UNDP to formalize the sector by developing a road map and setting up systems intended to manage the sector, noting that this requires the full cooperation from the affected communities.
“Liberia hosts 40% of the Upper Guinea Forest and the eyes of the international community are on Liberia to take appropriate steps including enforcement of laws, reforms, policies and change of attitudes and behavior toward the use of the forests. “The trend is to change the way we do things or else our children will hold us accountable if we fail to do so or address the issues,” Willabo noted.
He also mentioned the establishment of a few cooperatives involved in honey, cattle rearing and cocoa farming as alternative livelihoods for artisanal and small-scale miners.
“These Cooperatives are also helping the government to protect designated areas from illegal entrants by reporting cases of illegal entries into the park,” the Assistant Mines and Energy Minister disclosed.
Meanwhile, SCNL Executive Director Michael Garbo and FDA’s Roland Lepol have urged mining communities to take seriously the mining laws of Liberia, cautioning them against agitation and defiance and making efforts to protect their environment.
“We can’t stop people from making a living, but it must be done in accordance with the laws of the land and respect for each other. If you deplete the minerals and resources within short periods of time, what will remain for your children? They will hold you responsible and blame you for doing nothing to protect and safeguard their future,” Garbo noted.
Lepol emphasized that the regulations are intended to reduce the pressure on the forests and more importantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions which are part of efforts to fight climate change. “Nature will always remain but we as humans will not. We depend on nature for our survival. It is imperative that we collectively ensure that our generations can benefit from resources that the environment generates as long as we engage in smart mining,” said Lepol.
Artisanal mining is linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and UNDP is part of efforts to unlock the sector’s potential in contributing to the realization of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
UNDP’s Focal Person for the Environmental Governance Program, E. Abraham Tumbey, Jr, encouraged community structures to get involved in Participatory Environmental Monitoring which will serve as a platform for sharing information, monitoring, and reporting illegal activities, to promote environmental management.