Artisanal mining good practices

In every direction, everywhere you look, only a few Mongolians gers can be seen. As I began to think that herders hadn’t yet returned from their summer camp, a small car drove towards the ger – to where we were headed. For those of us who grew up in urban areas, the colloquial term “ninja miners” was familiar, although the concept of minerals extraction didn’t cross our minds. A decade after democracy came to Mongolia, mining began to develop into the industry we see today. The reality is, we’ve known artisanal and small-scale miners for the past 20 years. In those two decades, many of those whose fates became entwined with mining either improved their livelihoods or found themselves in a worse economic state. Mining brought with it the degradation of the previously pristine nature, deep holds in the ground, the draining of creeks and rivers, and dirt-filled rivers. But we have also watched the industry evolve to respond to those challenges, with mining companies assuming more responsibility. Artisanal miners followed suit, and made efforts to rehabilitate the environment – work I saw first-hand in Bayan-Ovoo and Galuut soums in Bayankhongor aimag.

Throughout Mongolia, more than 6500 artisanal and small-scale miners are now formalized. Bayankhongor aimag is a home to 11 NGOs, 88 partnerships and about 900 artisanal and small-scale miners. After losing most of their livestock in the disastrous winter storms of 1999 and 2000, people fell into unemployment, forcing 10,000 into mining to meet their basic economic needs. One of those miners, Davaa, said: “I lived as a herder, looking after my livestock for 10 years. That year after the winter storm, I lost all of my livestock and I had no choice but to become a ‘ninja’. I’ve spent 16 years in artisanal and small-scale mining. Previously we used to work on land owned by mining companies, conducting illegal mining extraction. We would be kicked out and chased away. But now we have built a partnership and we work together without fear.”

Artisanal and small-scale miners were responsible for a significant amount of damage to land in five of Bayankhongor’s soums, prompting demand for formalization and transparency through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDC’s) Sustainable Artisanal Mining (SAM) Project. The Bat-Saikhansetgel NGO has undertaken the technical and biological rehabilitation of 20 ha of land in Galuut soum of the province over a three-year period. This year, they rehabilitated 5.2 ha of land, including filling in and leveling over 50 holes, covering them with soil and planting environmentally compatible vegetation. One hectare of land costs MNT 5-6 million to rehabilitate. Rehabilitating the land by hand is much cheaper than using equipment. Evidence of the soil’s recovery is the number of people who are now spending their summers in restored areas. And that’s mining is prohibited in rehabilitated areas.

XAMODX NGO miners entered into a tripartite agreement with the Special Mines company to launch a small-scale mining operation in Bayan-Ovoo soum in 2012. This now includes 40 internal partnerships, with each partnership comprised of eight to 10 members. On land that is 3km wide and 30 ha in total, extraction take place from 12 shafts, from which miners remove ore from up to 80m below ground.

There are currently about 300 miners working at the Tsagaan Tsakhirt site engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) operations in Bayankhongor aimag. They spoke highly of the benefits of the SAM Project for locals. Officials said that as a result of the project, the number of individual miners had sharply fallen. Thanks to support from the SAM Project, XAMODX is now a Fairmined certified organisations – the first in Mongolia.

With support from SDC, the government of Mongolia established the “Khongoriin Khuder” ore-processing plant, which enables miners to crush ore and extract gold without the use of toxic and harmful substances. The plant crushes 1t of ore for MNT 150,000-200,000, and it is used by miners from Uvurkhangai, Arkhangai, Zavkan, Uvs and Govi-Altai aimag.


Of the 20 soums in Bayankhongor aimag, artisanal and small-scale miners operate in five: Bumbugur, Shine-Jinst, Bayan-Ovoo, Jargalant, and Galuut. A total of 701 ha of land is damaged due to mining operations. Of 300 hectares of rehabilitated land, Galuut soum covered 20 hectares with “Batsaikhan setgel” NGO’s miners. Bayankhongor province set a goal to have no damaged land by 2020. To restore the total of 400 hectares of land, there is a need for over 2 billion tugriks. After 2019, Bayankhongor province will allow special extraction license holders or land owners to operate only. In short, individuals who previously worked as illegal miners are now formalized into legal entities that benefit from the minerals and rehabilitate the land in return, which is a sight of growth and development improving by the year.