Artisanal mining

Recovering gold from an old riverbed. Photo by D.Hindley.

Recovering gold from an old riverbed, Preah Vihear province. Photo by ODC, taken on September 2014. Licensed under: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Artisanal mining is small-scale mining that typically involves individuals, family groups or small communities, often working with limited technology. The mining may be seasonal, fitted around other work such as farming. There is a large overlap between this type of activity and gemstone mining.

Artisanal miners usually target reasonably accessible minerals, often gold. Deposits are worked in old riverbeds, or occasionally down mineshafts.Estimates of the numbers of people involved run from 5–6,000 to tens of thousands.1

Most miners are extremely poor. One study of artisanal mining in developing countries found that the work is pivotal “…in alleviating poverty, increasing community capital and diversifying the local economy in many rural regions of the developing world, primarily because it is viable in areas with minimal infrastructure where other industries could not function.2

There are numerous health risks which include exposure to dust, mercury and other chemicals, noise and vibration, poor ventilation, overwork and poor equipment. Some miners die when mineshafts collapse. There is also environmental damage. 

Legal framework

Under the Constitution, all natural resources are the property of the state. The Law on Mineral Resource Management and Exploitation (‘the mining law’) confirms this.3 Mining conducted without a license is illegal.

Under the Cambodian mining law there are six types of mining license, and one of those is an artisanal mining license.4 However, it is common for artisanal mining to be carried out without a license.5

There have been government attempts to develop licensed mining communities. Cambodia’s first formal artisanal mining community was established in Mondulkiri province in April 2015.6 As well as bringing such communities inside the law it allows training and aims to help raise living standards.

Last updated: 1 May 2015

Related to Artisanal mining


Gemstone mining

Industrial mining



  1. 1. Jayawardena D. 2004. Emerging Issues Related to Small and Medium Scale Mining Operations in Asia and the Pacific Region. Working Paper; and Sotham, S. 2004. Small-scale gold mining in Cambodia, A Situation Assessment, ed. C. Middleton, Oxfam, America. July 2004.
  2. 2. Hilson, G. 2002. “Small-Scale Mining and Its Socio-Economic Impact in Developing Countries”. Natural Resources Forum, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 3 –13
  3. 3. Law on Mineral Resource Management and Exploitation 2001, Article 2.
  4. 4. Law on Mineral Resource Management and Exploitation 2001, Article 11.
  5. 5. Aun Pheap, ‘Illegal gold mines raided in Preah Vihear’, The Cambodia Daily, August 18 2014. Alice Cuddy, ‘Mining community inaugurated’, The Phnom Penh Post, 28 April 2015.
  6. 6. Ibid
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