The View from Niger – ASGM Needs a Tailored Response
By Daniel Hill, Dr Abdoulkader Afane - April 28, 2020
Gold Prices Falling, Supply Costs Rising. Limited Response so far
Gold Prices Falling: As a result of COVID-19 containment measures and the resulting liquidity crunch affecting the ASM sector, gold prices in the region of Tillaberi to the south along the border with Burkina Faso have dropped by up to 32%, while gold prices in the Agadez region to the north have dropped by up to 46%.
Frozen Cashflow : SOPAMIN, the central authority responsible for formal purchasing of ASM gold in Niger, has reported significant cashflow issues, with an inability to sell its gold on international markets and not enough money to absorb the glut of local ASM gold. According to sources from the country’s largest ASM site located in Tillaberi, Komabangou, traders buying at the site returned from Niamey with 2 kg of gold which they could not then resell.
Rising Prices: Meanwhile, pressures on ASM communities are compounded by higher prices for food and production inputs like chemicals, dynamite, wire, gasoline, and generators, and by government restrictions on movement, both cross border and within the country. In the North, the government has shut down the convoy that transports gold from the remote Tchibarakten site along the border with Algeria to the Arlit further south. Going the other way, only food supplies and water tanks are allowed to access the site, with workers forced into illicit modes of transportation.
ASM Needs a Tailored Response: Niger’s ASM sector has a unique role to play in COVID-19 containment measures. However, there have been limited examples of sector-specific measures to date. In the town of Tabelot, local authorities have raised awareness and hand washing facilities have been installed at the more modern cyanidation plants, yet there has been no action taken in larger neighbouring artisanal processing sites which comprise a mix of merchants, workers, mill owners, sluice ramps and grinding machines.
Preventing COVID in ASM: The ASM sector will be particularly key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 into the vast and gold-rich Agadez region, which has yet to report its first case. ASM sites in the region, such as those along the Aïr Mountains, have been known to draw stranded migrants that have been forced back from neighbouring Libya and Algeria, increasing the risk of transmission.
Preserving Formalization: The ASM sector in Niger serves as a source of livelihood for up to 600,000 (direct and indirect jobs). Prolonged COVID-19 disruptions to the ASGM sector limits its capacity to cushion employment shocks in other sectors of the economy. Prolonged stoppages also risk impeding progress towards formalization. It’s important that the sector bounces back quickly from COVID-19 in terms of production and employment, but equally important that the severed supply chains, export channels, and lines of communication be restored in a manner that keeps momentum towards greater transparency, sustainability, and formalization.
Security risks and lack of information: Information on how the sector is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic is limited due to the fluid and informal nature of the sector. At the same time, operational realities on the ground have become even more challenging, with higher security risks along border zones and stretched capacity for government, police and military resources along remote ASM value chains.
Better information collection needed: More than ever, more efficient data collection on the notoriously opaque sector is needed to support supervision of new support services and enforcement of regulations. Enhanced site-level data collection using low-cost information and communications technology (ICT) tools and participation of local actors is viewed as an important step to supporting new interventions and a COVID-19 response strategy for the sector.
Quick facts on Niger’s ASGM sector:
- The value and volume of ASM gold production in Niger has surged since the 2014 discovery of gold fields and ensuing gold rush in the northern Agadez region. Production estimates range from 5.7 tonnes in 2018 to 12 tonnes per year in 2017 (10 tonnes in Agadez and 2 tones in Tillaberi).
- ASM production represents between 79-89% of total gold produced in Niger (assuming only large scale mine, Samira Hill, runs at 1.5 tone per year processing capacity.
- ASM gold direct employment is estimated between 100,000 to 400,000.
- The Mining Code was revised in 2017 to surging ASM production, but control mechanisms established have yet to be implemented due to capacity constraints and operational challenges on the ground.
- Gold production in the Agadez region is split into three areas – Tchibarakten, Air Mountains, and the Djado plateau – all of which experienced gold rushes following their discoveries around 2014.Tillaberi represents Niger’s oldest gold producing region, with sites located along three segments of the Birimian greenstone belt that extends into Burkina Faso. Limited, mostly alluvial gold production in reported in Maradi.
 Abdoulkader Afane, April 17th 2020 transcript of telephone calls with sources in the ASM community concerning Komabangou in Tillaberi, and Tabelot and Tchibarakaten extraction sites in the Agadez region
 DEMPEC; Emmanuel Grégoire, and Laurent Gagnol. 2017. ‘Ruées Vers l’or Au Sahara : L’orpaillage Dans Le Désert Du Ténéré et Le Massif de l’Aïr (Niger)’. EchoGéo, September.