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For decades, the rural development and poverty alleviation agenda in sub-Saharan Africa has emphasised support for smallholder farming and little else. Foreign large-scale miners and other industrial operators have complied, establishing agriculture-support services and programs for communities located near their activities. However, these interventions have yielded mixed results, largely because millions of rural African families have, over the course of the past two decades, diversified their income portfolios away from agriculture. One of the more popular destinations has been artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) — low-tech, labour intensive mineral extraction and processing. This is a rapidly-growing informal sector of industry that provides a range of job opportunities; it has played an important role in nourishing debilitated smallholder farming activities, economically, over the past decade. In this era of globalisation, subsistence farming and rural nonfarm activities such as ASM have taken on very different roles: the latter have become, in most cases, a principal source of income, including in many rural sections of sub-Saharan Africa; increasingly, the former has taken on more of a food security role for the rural household. This paper proposes measures for supporting and formalising ASM in rural sub-Saharan Africa.


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