The progress made in allocating land to, and equipping, small miners in the country looks encouraging though hitches remain here and there.
Recent developments show that the government has been allocating land and funds to help the miners conduct their activities.
In Kagera Region’s Biharamulo District the government has identified 420 and 250 hectares in Nyakahura Ward’s Ngazi Saba and Busili villages, respectively. This is in a deliberate move meant to empower more than 1,000 small miners, according to Energy and Minerals deputy minister George Simbachawene.
“The ministry has started identifying areas for allocation to small miners…these areas were licensed to large miners whose licences will expire this year,” he recently told the National Assembly.
The 1990s saw thousands of Tanzanians engaged in small-time mining business despite, most relying crude equipment in both mapping and actual extraction of whatever they were hunting for.
It is estimated that there were over 400,000 such miners in the country by 1995, the number tumbling to 20,000 by 2000 when the government opened the doors to large-scale mining partly upon advice from the World Bank.
The new government policy has ample evidence of determination to empower small miners, and thus attract even more to the business. Some big companies, examples including Geita Gold Mine and African Barrick Group, have also been playing a similarly key role – the aim being making the way the business is conducted more professional and therefore safer and more productive.
Despite all these efforts, however, there are various challenges poor miners continue to grapple with. In Biharamulo District the area per mining individual is pretty inconsequential compared to that given to bigger miners, who would be allocated much more expansive tracts of land.
Immediate former Energy and Mineral minister William Ngeleja is on record as having once said the government has allocated a lowly total of 109,298 hectares of land small miners. That would mean less than quarter a hectare per miner, which cannot promise small miners supporting working conditions.
With the advent of big-time mining, most small players have all but been boxed out of business, this notwithstanding the support extended to them by the government and other agencies.
The new (2010) legislation on mining addresses these issues, but it must be implemented as fully as intended and expected if it is to make any meaningful difference.
Besides, small miners need equipment – and the government has extended 1bn/- for this – as well as training opportunities and reliable markets guaranteeing them a decent profit margin.
Reports suggest that current Energy and Minerals minister Prof Sospeter Muhongo has a reasonably good picture of the situation on the ground and has begun to address it.
We hope that following his recent meeting with small miners, he better appreciates the magnitude and seriousness of the problems facing them and will cooperate with them in ensuring they land a much better deal.
Should that happen, he would have created what a Mzumbe University don is fond of referring to as a win-win situation for big mining companies and small miners by helping both with direction and assurance.