Johanna Linus is a Senior Geoscientist in the Ministry of Mines and Energy of Namibia, where she plays a fundamental role in the formalization of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), as well as in the reviewing and updating of the minerals legislation. Johanna is a member of the WRF’23 scientific committee and we sat down with her to learn more about ASM in Namibia and what research she is most looking forward to discussing during the conference.
What is the role of the informal small-scale mining sector in Namibia? What opportunities and challenges does it face?
The term small-scale mining (SSM) in Namibia includes both artisanal and small-scale miners. Small-scale miners usually exploit small mineral deposits that are uneconomical for large-scale mining operations, utilizing rudimentary equipment and simple technology. Namibia hosts a variety of good quality coloured gemstones most of which are exploited by small-scale miners. Approximately 5,000 Namibians earn their income from the small-scale mining sector. This is a significant number for a country that has a population of about 2.6 million people only. As such, the small-scale mining sector has the ability to reduce poverty, combat urban migration, and improve local economic and social development in the country.
Additionally, small-scale mining is contributing to women empowerment as the sector employs women mainly in the marketing and selling of the products. At the national level, small-scale mining is contributing to foreign exchange earnings, and the royalties from the sales of the small-scale miners’ products contribute to the state coffers. Furthermore, the fact that small-scale miners are mining small deposits that otherwise would have been left in the ground makes it an indispensable economic activity.
However, the small-scale mining sector is faced with numerous challenges that are undermining its potential. Some of the challenges include lack of capital from financial institutions as the business is regarded risky; lack of proper mining equipment; lack of skills regarding mineral exploration and environmental sustainability; harsh working conditions; lack of business development and financial management skills; and limited access to land.
What’s required to ensure that the ASM sector can contribute to responsible mining and sustainable development, in Namibia and globally?
Despite the social and economic importance of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), the sector continues to be marginalized on economic policies and development agenda by governments, industries, and multilateral organisations. Specifically, it is this marginalization that has pushed the sector into informality, hence the many sustainability risks that are prevalent in this sector. In order to ensure that the ASM sector contributes to responsible mining and sustainable development, formalization of the sector and its integration into economic policies and development agenda need to be prioritized by all stakeholders.
Formalisation and integration of ASM will enable the sector to receive the much-needed assistance it needs. Governments should make inclusive policy decisions, multilateral organisations should allocate more resources aimed at capacity building and sustainable development of the sector, and the industries should design standards and other initiatives that are sensitive to the unique needs of artisanal and small-scale miners. Eventually, these will enable the ASM sector to contribute to responsible mining and sustainable development.
The title of WRF’23 is ‘Rethinking Value – Resources for Planetary Wellbeing’. Looking holistically at the global management and use of natural resources, what do you think we need to fundamentally rethink in order to make resource use a driver for human wellbeing within planetary boundaries?
Natural resources are the backbone of human life on earth. However, the current levels of natural resources use has surpassed the boundaries where the planet can sustainably support life on earth. The mismanagement of natural resources exploitation, use, and disposal has brought us at the current triple crisis of pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change. In order to make resource use a driver for human wellbeing within planetary boundaries, there is a great need for systemic change and responses in the way we exploit, use, and dispose natural resources.
We need to holistically rethink how we define value and what makes us feel valuable as human beings, is it material accumulation or purposeful living? What is enough? This will inform solutions to the rapidly increasing demand for natural resources. In addition, we need to do a reality check of our solutions to this triple crisis. Are the sustainability efforts and initiatives that are designed to save the planet adequate, or they are creating new problems that will counteract their success? This requires a closer look at the value chains of raw materials needed for the energy and mobility transitions, and the waste products of digitalization.
Furthermore, native American proverb states that “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. Therefore, we need to constantly rethink our actions to ensure that the present generation leave the earth a habitable planet for the coming generations.
Which topics related to the three conference tracks – Sufficiency, Value Chains and Digitalisation – do you think have so far been under-explored in the scientific literature and you would like to discuss more about during WRF’23?
The track of Sufficiency in its entirety has received little attention in the scientific literature, and it is pleasing to see it as one of the main tracks of the conference. It will be interesting to read more about the drivers and metrics of sufficiency as well as sufficiency policies, the successful stories and lessons learnt. Under the Value Chains track, I would like to read more on how to transform value chains by lessening the quantities of materials required from mines while increasing the supply from circular and regenerative activities. Furthermore, it will be fascinating to read more about how to transform digitalization from growth to purpose by using it to enable sustainability, and through analysis of environmental footprint of digital technologies.
How do you think such topics could support the uptake of sustainability in policy, business and community practices?
The topics under the Sufficiency track will enable us to do an introspection of our ideas, beliefs, and thoughts on our demand for natural resources. Understanding sufficiency drivers and metrics will enable stakeholders to make informed decisions regarding national and global sufficiency policies. Importantly, learning about existing sufficiency policies and their successes and lessons learnt will help governments, businesses and communities to develop new policies that are more responsive and inclusive.
In addition, reducing the materials from mines while increasing those from the circular and regenerative activities will support the uptake of sustainability in policy, businesses and communities by providing evidence of the potential of the circular economy. Lastly, digitalization has a great potential to drive sustainability efforts, however, analysing its environmental footprint is important to ensure that the externalities of digitalization are not offsetting any progress made.
Johanna Linus is a Senior Geoscientist in the Ministry of Mines and Energy of Namibia where she plays a fundamental role in the formalization of artisanal and small-scale mining, as well as in the reviewing and updating of the minerals legislations. Before that, she worked as an exploration geologist for an international company exploring for base, rare, and precious metals in Namibia. She holds a Master of Laws in International Mineral Law and Policy from the University of Dundee. Johanna has a keen interest in the policy analysis of the mineral resources sector. Her research areas include impacts of responsible sourcing on artisanal and small-scale miners, maximizing tax benefits for minerals producing countries, and just transition in the value chains of minerals and metals needed for the transition to low carbon economies.
Interview by Emanuele Di Francesco, World Resources Forum