Empowering ASM Miners: The 7th ASM Academy

Driving Responsible Lithium Mining

Compiled by Tatenda Mapooze

Contextual background:

As the global community grapples with the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change, the ongoing shift away from fossil fuels is impacting the minerals industry. The indispensability of metals in electrification, renewable energy generation, electric mobility, and novel energy storage has rendered minerals critical to the expansion of low-carbon and carbon-neutral sectors[1]. Lithium is indispensable to the manufacturing of rechargeable batteries, required for a wide array of applications in energy generation, transmission, and storage infrastructure. Ironically, the technology required for transition to a low-carbon economy entails significantly higher material consumption, including minerals, in comparison to traditional fossil fuel-based energy technologies. This surge in demand places considerable pressure on producing nations to augment the extraction of green energy minerals like graphite, cobalt, and lithium. Projections indicate that the demand for these minerals is expected to surge by nearly 500% by 2050[2].

Zimbabwe has vast reserves of green energy minerals, but much of the country remains unexplored. The country has Africa’s largest lithium deposits. It is the 6th largest Lithium producer in the world giving it a competitive advantage and a unique opportunity for developing world-class mines and processing facilities which can springboard its socioeconomic development[3]. Over the past few years, Zimbabwe has seen a surge in lithium mining activities, attracting local and international investors. While the country stands to benefit from the demand for critical minerals, especially lithium, challenges such as a shortage of human capital, inadequate financial resources, and inadequate infrastructure to foster competitive markets hinders this. Additionally, the country needs sound fiscal and mining governance regimes that address crucial issues in this sector like the lack of transparency.

State of the ASM sector:

Lithium mining in Zimbabwe is conducted through a combination of both artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM)  and large scame mining. The ASM sector has experienced tremendous growth over the years, making the world’s largest workforce, and gaining global significance due to its contribution to the supply of minerals and metals worldwide. The sector also contributes to economies and supports the livelihoods of approximately 30 million people directly employed and 150 million people indirectly employed.[4] In Zimbabwe, the ASM sector boasts a population of approximately 1.5 million people, mainly engaged in gold, chrome, lithium, and semi-precious stones mining.[5] The economic environment prevailing in the country, and climate change, which have made agriculture difficult due to erratic rains leading to food insecurity have forced many to seek employment in the artisanal mining sector to make ends meet without the prerequisite skills of this highly technical field. The ASM workforce often lacks access to legal protection, formal finance, appropriate equipment and training, and security of land tenure. Miners are more focused on satisfying their daily needs than environmental management and sustainable mining practices. Due to the informal nature of ASM, its contribution to growth and economic development are overlooked compared to large-scale mining[6].

Research has shown that Zimbabwe’s artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) lack the necessary skills and knowledge for safe and effective lithium extraction. Women miners, in particular, face challenges in understanding pricing and grading processes, limiting their participation in the value chain.[7] The significance of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector in the country is undeniable. Yet, there is ample room for improvement to fully harness its potential in driving economic and social growth. Ordinary citizens who participate in the lithium value chain through artisanal mining and small-scale mining continue to operate in precarious conditions where their work is criminalized, and they are exposed to health risks. The ASM sector in Zimbabwe, particularly in the lithium mining industry, faces numerous challenges that hinder its development and sustainability. These challenges include a lack of the necessary financial and human resources to support their operations effectively. Limited access to capital, including the absence of bankable projects and collateral, makes it difficult for ASM miners to access financing from banks. This limitation impedes their capacity to recruit skilled professionals, including geologists, metallurgists, and engineers, and acquire essential mining and processing equipment. The absence of well-established market structures poses a challenge for ASM miners. Limited market access, price volatility, and lack of market information restrict their ability to effectively trade and sell their products. Ineffective policy implementation, inefficient licensing processes, and limited technical support for ASM miners exacerbate the situation. ASM miners often lack the necessary technical skills required for efficient and responsible mining practices. This includes inadequate knowledge of blasting techniques, leading to dangerous working conditions and low productivity. Additionally, the lack of geological information and capacity to interpret geological data hampers their ability to identify high-prospective areas for their mining activities. The licensing process is perceived as complex and centralized at Provincial Offices, creating barriers for ASM miners to obtain legal mining rights.

This cocktail of challenges can be transformed through innovations that focus on improving access to financial resources, enhancing market structures, building the capacity of relevant stakeholders, providing technical and business skills training, facilitating access to geological information, ensuring reliable energy supply, and improving the mining title and licensing process.

The 7th ASM Academy:

Over the years ZELA has been calling for the adoption of responsible mining and sourcing standards by companies and the Government to promote environmental, social, and governance standards and in particular respect and protection of environmental rights, empowerment of artisanal miners, and improved community monitoring of mining impacts. To address these gaps, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) with support from Christian Aid Zimbabwe and the World Resources Forum hosted the 7th ASM Academy, focusing on empowering ASM miners to engage in the lithium value chain actively. The Academy ran under the theme “Making Just Transition Inclusive for All: Empowering ASM to actively participate in the lithium value chain”. 

Training Curriculum

The academy covered several topics to address knowledge gaps within the sector. These include training on the legal framework governing Zimbabwe’s ASM sector, international regulations related to lithium mining, and responsible sourcing practices. Safety, health, and environmental (SHE) issues specific to the lithium ASM sector and customized to fit the operational context of the ASM miners were covered extensively. The training aimed to enhance the miners’ understanding of safety, health, and environmental practices in the ASM sector. Mining geology and mine surveys have a critical crucial role in the mining industry. Various aspects of mining geology, including economic geology, exploration geology, structural geology petrology, geochemistry, and mineralogy were covered during the Academy. The Academy ensured that ASM miners understand how mine surveys contribute to the efficient and responsible management of mining activities while safeguarding the interests of stakeholders and the environment. The mine development training imparted knowledge about modern mining techniques, such as proper excavation methods, ore processing, and mineral recovery. The training targeted to maximize miners’ yields while reducing waste and increasing profitability. The training was tailored to the needs of artisanal and small-scale miners and was essential for promoting safer, more environmentally responsible, and economically viable mining practices.

The mine waste management training equipped miners with the skills to safely handle, store, and dispose of waste while promoting resource efficiency. By maximizing resource recovery and minimizing waste generation, ASM miners can contribute to the long-term sustainability of their enterprises. The training also helped miners comply with regulations, fostering environmental stewardship and social responsibility in the ASM sector.

Business skills are important to convert artisanal to small-scale mining and small-scale to medium-scale mining. It is a common occurrence for miners to invest in equipment without understanding the value of the acquisition. Understanding market demand and pricing is also critical[8]. As a result, comprehensive financial training tailored to the specific needs of artisanal and small-scale miners in Zimbabwe was provided during the academy. By overcoming financial barriers and taking advantage of opportunities to access finance, ASM miners can improve their business management skills and financial capabilities, leading to sustainable growth and development of the sector.

The Role of ASM Miners in the Lithium Value Chain

Active participation of artisanal and small-scale miners who play a crucial role in the extraction, production, and supply of lithium is of paramount importance. Recognizing and harnessing the potential of ASM miners in the lithium value chain is essential for sustainable development and the advancement of responsible mining practices. Their involvement in the lithium value chain ensures the diversification of the mining sector and promotes inclusivity. ASM miners often operate in remote areas and marginalized communities, on small to marginal deposits where large-scale mining operations may not be feasible, creating economic opportunities, reducing poverty, and promoting social development in these communities.


Artisanal and Small scale mining represents a significant sector for Zimbabwe and is an important source of income for many. To achieve a sustainable mining industry, basic mining skills need to be developed for ASMers. The 7th ASM Academy was designed to achieve this by equipping ASMers with the basic technical skills necessary to work productively and safely in the Zimbabwean mining industry. Learners were trained both theoretically and practically to meet the requirements of the mining industry to supply knowledgeable and skilled personnel capable of supporting the industry, as well as developing their operations. ZELA remains committed to collaborating and capacitating ASM miners by empowering them with the knowledge and skills acquired to formalize their operations and operate sustainably and responsibly. Support for artisanal and small-scale miners is critical for the improvement of the sector to improve mine health, safety, and productivity.

[1] https://www.afdb.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/approach_paper_towards_preparation_of_an_african_green_minerals_strategy.pdf

[2] World Bank (2020) Minerals for Climate Action:

“The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition,” Report.  

[3] https://zepari.co.zw/sites/default/files/2019-06/Assessment%20of%20the%20Scope%20of%20Beneficiation%20and%20Value%20Addition%20of%20Minerals%20in%20Zimbabwe_2017.pdf

[4] https://www.iisd.org/system/files/publications/igf-asm-global-trends.pdf

[5] https://www.rosalux.de/fileadmin/images/EnglishWS/Africa/ZimbabweMines/Zimbabwe-Artisinal-Mining-Sector.pdf

[6] https://www.land-links.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Green-Energy-Minerals-Report_FINAL.pdf

[7] https://zela.org/download/map-of-lithium-exploration-and-mining-projects-in-zimbabwe-2/

[8] https://www.saimm.co.za/Conferences/BM2015/045-Rupprecht.pdf

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