Supporting responsible gold production in Mauritania

March 17, 2023
Trainees gather around a shaking table during demonstrations. Credit: Pact

Pact works in partnership with gold mining communities to end dangerous practices and create positive, sustainable social and economic impact. In Mauritania, Pact is demonstrating a business case for responsible artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and trade from Mauritania’s burgeoning gold sector. Through the Business Pilot for Responsible Mauritanian ASM Gold project, supported by Magma Group and Aurum Monaco, Pact is supporting ASGM miners, blacksmiths and local jewelers to adopt improved methods for gold processing and jewelry-making with reduced environmental and health impacts. 

Recent developments in formalization of the ASGM sector

In 2019, the administration in Mauritania announced plans to actively manage and enforce the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector, setting the stage for an interesting case study in West Africa. Rather than discouraging artisanal miners, the announced strategy was to supervise, manage and provide technical guidance to them. A major element of the strategy was the development of MAADEN—a government agency specifically created and dedicated to managing and overseeing the ASGM sector. 

Even before MAADEN came into place, the government moved to control mineral processing centers, mandating that artisanal and small-scale miners bring their minerals to approved facilities in Chami and Zouerat. In 2020, approximately 900 wet pan mills were in operation at these two large “grillage” sites, representing at least half of ASGM production by whole ore amalgamation. Between 2015 and 2020, these wet-pan mills were responsible for the accumulation of large volumes of tailings.  

Three important developments since this period include:  

  1. In 2021, MAADEN allowed the registration of tailings companies. Around 30 companies have been granted licenses and have been processing tailings. The stockpile of tailings in the country is rapidly diminishing.
  2. MAADEN is constructing a new grillage 30 km north of the gold mining town of Chami to keep mineral processing away from residential areas. This new grillage is larger than the previous and will be equipped with water and electricity.
  3. In late 2022, MAADEN published a long-awaited draft of Mauritania’s new ASGM law, “Organizing the artisanal and small-scale mining activity of gold and determining the legal status of MAADEN Mauritania.” The new law focuses principally on definitions for mining operations and regulations pertaining to these.

Constructing a mercury-free mineral processing testing facility 

MAADEN requested support on the development and demonstration of mercury-free mineral processing systems, an important element of responsible gold production, adapted to the Mauritania context. Pact leveraged Magma’s laboratory experience to construct a mineral testing facility in Nouakchott. The objective was to successfully demonstrate a viable pathway for ASGM actors to replace whole-ore amalgamation as a primary gold recovery technique with lower mercury or mercury-free techniques. Pact and Magma tested various processing options (“circuits”) in a controlled facility.

Magma developed a mineral testing facility know as the Yard in Nouakchott. Here ASM mineral processing equipment is setup for test work (i.e., not for Au production purposes) and to deliver training to artisanal miners in a controlled environment.

Training miners on ASM formalization, mineral processing and safe mineral extraction 

In November and December 2022, Pact and Magma delivered technical trainings for 168 participants of the EPRM project at the mineral testing yard in Nouakchott. Full-day trainings with demonstrations and hands-on practical sessions were offered to miners and prioritized four main themes: (1) formalization of ASM in the context of Mauritania’s legal framework; (2) organizational strengthening for artisanal and small-scale gold miners; (3) safer mining extraction techniques applied to the local context; and (4) mercury-free mineral processing (starting with classroom-based theory).