Low-tech mineral extraction and processing in sub-Saharan Africa, such as artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), needs more support and formalisation.

This is according to Professor Gavin Hilson, Chair of Sustainability in Business at the University of Surrey, at the national conference of the Crawford Fund, the Mining, Agriculture and Development: Bread from Stones?

Held today in Perth, Australia, in conjunction with the Africa Australia Research Forum, it is being attended by 300 delegates from around Australia and from at least 20 African countries.

The forum is being held as a forerunner to the three day Africa Down Under conference commencing in Perth tomorrow, in which Australia’s $40 billion participation in helping develop Africa’s mineral riches, will be under the spotlight.

“For decades, the donor support for rural economic development in sub-Saharan Africa has focused on farming and little else. This has included technical assistance and direct investment from foreign, private sector industrial operators,” Professor Hilson said.

“Greater emphasis should be placed in the region’s development strategies to supporting the hundreds of thousands of families that have branched out from agriculture into non-farm economic activities, in particular, ASM,” he said.

“In an era of globalisation, ASM has become a principal source of income for numerous rural households.

“Donors, as well as other bodies providing development in rural sub-Saharan Africa such as mining companies, should give ASM more support and attention to ensure that its safety, technical, sustainability and equity challenges are addressed, rather than seeing it as a problem.”