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Artisanal gold mining, Burkina Faso’s other reality

Since 2008, the year of Burkina’s mining boom, gold has been overtaken by cotton exports.There are two types of mines in the country: large gold sites controlled by industrialists that extract about 75 tons per year, and artisanal mines with a much lower yield.For example, over the last seven years, the wild mine of Tiébélé has only collected about 30 kilos.Where do we find them? Artisanal gold mines flourish on the main “gold lines” identified in Burkina.For several years now, the State has been granting free exploration permits for its basements, as it does not have the means to do so itself.Private individuals, like Moumouni Anougabou, take it over.Most of the time, when deposits are found, companies open industrial mines and the state automatically becomes a 10% shareholder.

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A highly insecure environment

But sometimes pieces of land are squatted, and become artisanal gold mines.They’re called that because they don’t, theoretically, have any machinery.All extraction work is done there by hand.Working conditions are often very rudimentary: the descent is not safe, the miners have no safety equipment, child labour is not uncommon.There are many holes in the mine, with more or less solid installations.Some have a log structure to prevent landslides, a shelter to limit heat and the risk of flooding in case of rain, others have only a pulley to pull up the extracted material.Each hole is exploited by an individual, they are dug between 25 and 80 meters on average.The objective? Reach the 100 meters, because the deeper it is, the easier the gold is to grasp.While digging the hole, rock is extracted.After a first sorting, it is sent to the “counter”, a few kilometres away.There, the stones are crushed, then the powder is passed through a sieve to recover gold dust.At this stage, 25% of the precious metal is recovered.To go further, the remaining powder is “cleaned” with mercury, which destroys all but the gold.Finally, the gold is sold to traders who bring it to the big cities.

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