The World Wide Fund for Nature and Forêts et Développement Rural (FODER) a local NGO, have initiated the first ever public dialogue for a national policy for the promotion of sustainable artisanal and small scale mining in Cameroon. Industrial mining is still at a nascent stage, while artisanal and small scale mining has witnessed a boom over the years in Cameroon. Between 2012 and 2014, 11754 authorizations for exploration of artisanal and semi-mechanized mining were issued though the number of permits declined considerably after 2014, with just 751 permits issued between 2015 and 2016.
The sector is, however, bedeviled by inadequate regulatory and institutional problems, lack of transparency and conflicts between local people and foreign interest groups, health and environmental hazards. The public dialogue that took place from 10-12 May 2017 in Bertoua, East Region of Cameroon, brought together members of parliament, traditional rulers, businesspeople, representatives of nine government ministries, councils, traditional rulers, NGOs, representatives of local communities and indigenous people.
"This public dialogue ensures that reforms in the sector are participatory and help in identifying the priorities for building a responsible and sustainable artisanal and small scale mining sector that contributes to Cameroon's emergence by 2035," says Cleto Ndikumagenge, Director of Conservation for WWF Cameroon Country Program Office.
Mining exploitation sites are full of risks for artisanal miners and the environment. A small gold mining site discovered some 10km from the town of Betare Oya in eastern Cameroon in December 2016, has attracted over 1500 people from Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Mali. While an average miner is sure to make over FCFA 300,000 ($600) a month from digging through the rocks to crushing and washing for gold, they face many health risks.
"The sanitary conditions are a grave cause for concern. There are no health centres here for the teeming population and everyone has to struggle to treat themselves when sick. There are no toilets," states Harman Betoli, a miner at Betare Oya. "Many youths have abandoned school and are streaming in here to make fast money, regardless of the risks," adds Betoli.
Besides health risks, cases of accidents and deaths have been recorded in abandoned sites. Artisanal miners are also concerned about a possible invasion of rich Chinese businesspeople who allegedly collude with government officials to buy off the sites and send away most local miners.
"We are overwhelmed by the situation; mining sites exploited by Chinese are left uncovered resulting in numerous accidents. Hardly does a week pass by without us recording fatal accidents," says Adamou Iya Justin, Mayor of Betare Oya.
"Artisanal mining exploitation is beset by conflicts of interests," says Moise Malla Noah, Delegate for Mining for the East Region of Cameroon. "Local people complain their lands have been taken without their consent," he states. Malla believes Cameroon new mining code, promulgated into in December 2016, "sufficiently addresses some of the problems emanating from artisanal and small scale mining."
The over 80 participants at the workshop recommended that, "public consultations be organized before mining permits are issued to potential miners." They also called on Cameroon's Ministry in charge of environmental protection and sustainable development to step up systematic inspection of mining activities and surveillance of the environment. It was recommended local councils be involved in the attribution of mining exploitation permit and surveillance and environmental management. Participants also requested the government to accelerate the process of transfer of mining royalties to beneficiary local councils and communities.