The DELVE Exchange: The Role of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Networks During COVID-19

An estimated 42 million people are employed in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) across the globe. For many of these people, ASM provides the main source of household income, which often exceeds earnings from agriculture, retail, and other informal sector jobs.

Within developing countries, the COVID-19 crisis posed significant risks for artisanal and small-scale miners and their communities. However, recent evidence indicates that ASM networks and associations have been effective in mitigating COVID-related risks, playing a critical role coordinating short-term relief and assistance in mining communities and advocating strongly on behalf of the sector.

The DELVE Exchange project

The Delve Exchange is a knowledge exchange network for artisanal and small-scale miners and quarry workers by artisanal and small-scale miners and quarry workers. Supported by the Extractives Global Programmatic Support (EGPS) multi-donor trust fund, this initiative was established in 2021 as a platform to enable networking and exchange during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of January 2023, there are currently over 900 members who are encouraged to actively solve problems by a deep level of exchange and engagement across 7 WhatsApp groups and 100 regional monthly forums. The Delve Exchange is led by 6 regional Knowledge Exchange Coordinators, each a member of an ASM representative association, and the majority also have experience as miners. These Knowledge Exchange Coordinators are at the heart of the Delve Exchange’s practice.

The Delve Exchange facilitates and documents the sharing of lessons and best practices among a cohort of ASM Associations in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific on responses to COVID-19 and their future post COVID-19. The platform supports peer-to-peer learning and generates knowledge and solutions that can be adopted by global ASM networks and associations to help their members and communities respond to local and national challenges.

Why are ASM networks and associations so important?

ASM national networks and associations play a crucial role supporting ASM across the globe. They advocate on behalf of their members on policy issues, promote improved mining practices in areas such as the environment, health and safety, provide access to knowledge and resources (including finance), and may even provide a social safety net when a crisis occurs.

Data collected by the World Bank and partners in 2020 has highlighted the crucial role ASM associations played during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in providing emergency support to miners in COVID-impacted areas. Examples of interventions include supply of health equipment and sanitation stations, health information campaigns, measures to support people returning to their rural homes, and campaigns to promote best practices in artisanal and small-scale mining.    


women from the Panna District, India, gathering around laptop
Silicosis widows in Panna District (India) attending the 9th Delve Exchange forum for South & Central Asia in December 2022.

The Delve Exchange initiative is a collaboration between The University of Queensland, Association of Women in Mining Africa, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the ACP-EU Development Minerals Program implemented by United Nations Development Programme, and partners in 6 geographical regions across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific who have first-hand experience as miners, ASM Association representatives and / or providers of ASM technical assistance and support. Partners act as ‘Regional Knowledge Exchange Coordinators’ who work across their regions to identify associations and cooperatives of artisanal and small-scale miners to build a network and help facilitate the sharing of best practices.

The Delve Exchange’s approach is distinguished by its deliberate and purposive miner-empowerment bias. It champions, and gives voice to, miners to tell their own story in their own words.

ASM miners and quarry workers who have rarely had a place at the table and whose knowledge and experience is often ignored, are now able to present the miner’s voice in international events (for example, Delve Exchange presentation at the Planet Gold Conference in April 2022, at the OECD Forum on Responsible Mineral Supply Chain in May 2022, and at the World Bank Conference on ASM post COVID-19 in December 2022). This reflects the call for miner voice in the Mosi-Oa-Tunya Declaration, spearheaded by members of the Delve Exchange team.

Our impact

With basic instruction, a story telling framework and mentoring, miners record events at their sites in the form of practice stories (describing a mining related practice), challenge stories (elaborating a problem/challenge) and exchange stories (describing how they have learned from others across the network). These are posted in WhatsApp groups as text, voice messages or video; these groups operate in English, French and Spanish with accommodation for local languages.

These opportunities have created a stimulus for sharing and soliciting advice from other miners and have built miners’ confidence to lead discussions in monthly and global forums. In this way, the Delve Exchange has enabled the global voice and visibility of ASM and the quarry sector associations as exemplified by the Delve Exchange leadership of a plenary session From the Mines up: building coalitions for change at the EGPS conference in Nairobi in December 2022.

The future of Delve Exchange

The Delve Exchange plans to develop an ASM Academy that, for the first time, will develop capacity building approaches for site level transformation under the leadership of artisanal and small-scale miners themselves. 

At its heart, the ASM Academy would be a site-based, multi-commodity capacity building program for site transformation that places the miner, their mine site and community at the centre of its activity.

The ASM Academy teachings would reflect the knowledge and practical experience of these miners, fostering from the ground up the building of new knowledge and capacity in institutions across the sector through knowledge exchange and partnerships between the ASM sector and universities and training organisations. The ASM Academy would reference certification initiatives such as the Code of Risk mitigation for Artisanal and small-scale miners engaging in Formal Trade (CRAFT), with the possibility of extending existing codes to cover the commodity mined or quarried on their site (for example sand).

Funding Body

This project is funded by The World Bank under its Extractives Global Programmatic Support (EGPS) 2 Trust Fund.

Project Members