Formalisation of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) through taxation: The case of Zambia

In sub-Saharan Africa, few economic activities have been more overlooked than artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – low-tech, labour-intensive mineral extraction and processing. This has been a significant oversight, given the sector’s growing economic importance: it employs an estimated 30 million people directly worldwide; creates jobs for an additional 300 million ‘downstream’ and ‘upstream’; is the most important rural non-farm activity in Africa; and has inseparable linkages with agriculture. The vast majority of the region’s ASM activities, however, are found in the informal economy, which poses a challenge for regulators and donors interested in supporting operators.

This research aims to propose fresh ideas on how to formalise ASM in Africa. Facilitating the legalising of the sector through the empowerment of its participants will require long-term commitments from donors and policymakers to map its organisational structures, engage with its key operators, and devise comprehensive policies which accurately reflect the realities on the ground.  Formalisation would not only improve the conditions of a sector on which millions of Africans have come to increasingly rely upon for their livelihoods but would also provide a platform for host governments to collect tax and other revenue which the state is currently missing out on.

An effective system of ASM taxation would be an appealing solution for both operators and host governments. Operators tend to mine informally because of the cost and bureaucracy involved but many would surely legalise, as well as pay a tax, if it meant gaining access to the wealth of state and donor support schemes in place for licensed ASM activities (e.g. microfinance, education, etc.). Governments would likely mobilise on the grounds of the financial gains for doing so as well as a tax-based diversification strategy.

To address these objectives, research will be undertaken in Zambia, the location of one of the most under-investigated yet more dynamic ASM economies in Africa. After engaging and interviewing stakeholders in Lusaka, work will shift to the local level, specifically, two sites:

  1. On emerald production in Lufwanyama, where emerald production is widespread.
  2. Lundazi, a new gold mining sire.

Outputs