Small-scale mining in Bougainville: Impacts and policy responses

22 June 2016

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This Report presents interim research findings from a research project on small scale mining (SSM) in Bougainville. An Interim Report has been produced because while the project is still under way, substantial information has already been compiled that will be of interest to researchers and to a range of stakeholders, including those directly involved in SSM, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), and the funding agency, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Drawing on field research conducted during 2014-2016, the Report provides a high-level but comprehensive review of the current status of the (less than 20 year-old) SSM industry in postconflict Bougainville. It focuses on the location of SSM activity and the modes of production and methods of mining used; the identity of miners, the nature of their participation in SSM and the economic motivations driving them; the wider economic networks created by SSM; and the risks associated with SSM, including safety, health, cultural, environmental risks, and the possibility that SSM might foster tensions in still-fragile post-conflict Bougainville. The Report concludes with a discussion of informal mechanisms for regulating SSM, and a review of a unique policy and regulatory response to SSM introduced by the ABG in 2015.

Despite the comparatively brief history of SSM in Bougainville, its experience is highly relevant to a number of issues that arise, and in some cases receive inadequate attention, in the international SSM literature. These include the critical matter of how small scale miners gain access to land and minerals, and the economic, social and cultural implications of the ways in which they do so; and how local knowledge and governance capacity can be mobilised to help regulate a form of mining that is highly dynamic and typically occurs in remote areas far from administrative centres.

The research on which this Report is based is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian Development Research Awards Scheme (ADRAS) under an award titled ‘Small Scale and Illegal Mining in Bougainville: Impacts and Policy Responses’.

Tags: Bougainville

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