As other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Sierra Leone is currently experiencing a “mining boom” that is will likely impact the country’s growth prospects in the near future, as major investments are made into the exploitation of recently found mineral fields (bauxite, iron ore). Unlike most countries on the continent, however, Sierra Leone has a long history of mining at the small-scale and artisanal level. Minerals, particularly diamonds, are in fact widely believed to have been one if not the main factor at the root of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war in the 1990s.
In Sierra Leone, outside a few major companies that can bear the investment costs necessary for industrial mining, the majority of mining operations are “artisanal alluvial” – they are conducted in rivers and in swamps using rudimentary equipment. Due to the lack of employment opportunities in manufacturing and services, the bulk of the labour force in diamond areas faces a choice between getting involved in mining, farming, or both. In turn, the choice of communities to devote more or less resources on mining will impact conditions for agriculture. In addition, the mining activities could themselves have impacts on agricultural conditions. The proximity to rivers, which typically replenishes soil nutrients and enables irrigation, has ambiguous effects in a context where mining takes place in and around rivers. Because of the chemicals and other waste spilled in the rivers around the mining sites, the rivers fulfil less of their nutrient-replenishing functions. In addition, the techniques used for small-scale mining involve lifting off the top soil in areas surrounding rivers, which could accelerate soil erosion. As a result, farmers cultivating around mines may be directly negatively affected by mining activities.
This project will enhance our understanding of the structure of small scale and artisanal diamond mining in Sierra Leone and its impact on the local economy. We will be looking at the overall effects of mining activities on rural livelihoods, involving such diverse aspects as income and wealth, food security, security and social conflict. Are mining communities better off than their non-mining neighbours? Is diamond mining a substitute for or a complement to farming? Within communities, how is labour allocated between mining and farming and how are mining revenues shared amongst mining and non-mining households? To answer these questions we will look at data provided by the Ministry of Mining and Mineral Resources as well as household-level agricultural data already collected as part of the Agricultural Households Tracking Survey (AHTS) in 2010 and a follow up survey conducted in 2011.