Research team

Development processes, actors and policies

Expertise

Extractive industries, natural resources, gold mining, global value chains, global production networks, CSR & standards, labour, informal economy, hybrid governance

Health and environment in Congo's artisanal mines: a participatory action project. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) accounts for approximately one fifth of global mine production and sustains tens of millions of livelihoods. At the same time, it is associated with a range of detrimental environmental and health impacts. For instance, ASGM is linked to deforestation, mercury pollution, respiratory diseases, and mine accidents such as tunnel collapses, asphyxiation, drowning and landslides. Since about six years I am codirector of CEGEMI, the Expertise Center on Mining Governance at the Catholic University of Bukavu in DRC's South Kivu province. Previous research by CEGEMI members has documented some of the abovementioned health and environmental effects. Yet despite these risks, hundreds of thousands of people continue working and living in the mines, as they (in)directly depend on them for their livelihoods. Nevertheless, they are likely to suffer from the consequences of deforestation, water, dust pollution and soil degradation in the long run. What remains little understood, however, is whether the persistence of such harmful practices is mostly a matter of limited information, of limited resources (financial, material), of prioritization (trade-off between short-term economic gain and long-term gains), of structurally unequal power relations, of bad governance or misguided government policies, or due to something else. As long as this is insufficiently understood, all proposed solutions risk to either not be adapted to the context, or not be accepted by local populations (as happened in the case of the recent Ebola outbreak). Building on this and together with a CEGEMI team, I aim to find out how artisanal miners and local communities, but also other supply chain actors and (non-)governmental organizations can be actively involved in sensitization and adoption of better mining practices. To this end, we will set up a participatory action research in one selected mine, and try to learn from this experience to set up similar projects in other mines in the future.

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Socio-ecological resilience: a new perspective for artisanal and small-scale mining communities? 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

This research project explores whether the concept socio-ecological resilience can further our empirical and conceptual understanding of changes in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) communities. It has three main objectives that will address gaps in the ASM literature: 1) to improve our understanding of the internal structures, actors and dynamics of ASM communities; 2) to develop a conceptual framework to understand the interacting socio-ecological systems that surround ASM communities, by focusing on key trends transforming ASM; 3) to contribute to the literature on resilience by exploring the relationship between resilience at the community level and at the socio-ecological system level. It will use the conceptual framework of socio-ecological resilience combined with perspectives from political ecology to examine case studies – namely, two different ASM communities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In doing so, it aims to provide more holistic perspective of the role of ASM as a livelihood strategy. Moreover, the knowledge generated could be used to better inform policies and interventions to mitigate the problems that have for so long afflicted ASM communities. The findings will be published through four articles in high-impact academic journals: one article for each of my three research objectives; and a fourth to discuss the potential for socio-ecological resilience to be combined with perspectives from political ecology.

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Research team(s)

Enhancing knowledge of the intersection between conservation, environmental change and armed conflict: policy lessons from eastern DRC. 01/10/2020 - 30/11/2021

Abstract

While the negative effects of armed conflict on the environment and nature conservation are well documented, we have a limited understanding of how environmental change and conservation shape armed mobilization. Armed actors often exploit natural resources in protected areas. They also capitalize on park-people conflicts and struggles around natural resources that may enmesh with communal conflict. Environmental changes can exacerbate these conflicts and intensify armed mobilization. This creates complex feedback loops as more armed conflict can lead to further environmental degradation. This project aims to improve our understanding of the relations between conservation, armed conflict and environmental change by studying two protected areas in eastern DRC. The resulting knowledge will inform policies and programming for environmental peacebuilding (theme 1), biodiversity conservation, and natural resources governance (theme 2). The project will also provide insights into dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion (theme 3).

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Engaging 'workforce' and 'water': towards more sustainable engagements around small-scale gold production in southern Peru. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Peru is the sixth largest producer of gold in the world (USGS 2017). At least 15% of Peruvian gold is produced through small-scale, informal operations – more than half of which are in located in the region of Puno. Mining is undoubtedly one of the most important livelihood activities in the region; yet it comes at a considerable socio-economic and socio-environmental cost. This project aims to address these issues by developing knowledge that will promote a more sustainable, more inclusive and socially just ASGM sector. We will achieve this aim by delivering on two objectives. Firstly, we will improve the co-creation of critical knowledge about the process of gold production, both in terms of how the activity is embedded in local communities (by focussing on 'workforce') and its impact on the surround environment (by focussing on 'water'). Knowledge will be co-created by academic and non-academic stakeholders so as to ensure that the work has practical as well as academic value. Secondly, we will develop a mechanism to ensure knowledge is effectively shared among all relevant stakeholders.

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Winners and Losers from Globalization and Market Integration: Insights from Micro-Data (WLG-Micro). 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Globalization, and market integration more generally, has created winners and losers around the world. Recent political events (e.g. US elections and Brexit) show that many people are concerned and demand policies to stop globalization through new trade barriers and limits on free movement of people. Research on the precise impact of globalization and market integration has been constrained by measurement and data problems. Theoretical and empirical models using aggregate data failed to capture detailed heterogeneous effects. Identifying precise impact mechanisms or causality is complicated when other factors (such as technological change) occur simultaneously. Our project wants to improve impact analysis using unique and new detailed micro-data (at the firm-, region-, and household-level) and state-of-the art micro-econometric techniques. Our project's focus is global (covering many countries, both rich and poor) and local (with the use of micro-data) at the same time. We use a modern view of market integration — i.e. that trade is more than a flow of goods – by integrating local and global value chains into our analysis, taking into account embedded technology transfer and product and process requirements. In combination, this will allow to identify impact at the level of firms, sectors, regions and households, accounting for the complexity of the impact mechanisms.

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InforMining? An in-depth study of informalization processes in global gold production. 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

chains, and -production networks, to make sense of trends in global production. It concludes that the global economy has witnessed a geographical expansion of production; a concentration of power in the hands of lead firms; and the rise of a flexible and irregular workforce. Despite its strengths, this research has important shortcomings, including a neglect of informal production, and of extractive industries such as mining. This project addresses both shortcomings, by investigating informalization processes in global gold production. More precisely, it analyzes two mechanisms that indicate a growing reliance on informal labour: (1) outsourcing by large mining companies to local subcontractors who operate at the margins of the formal economy; and (2) the massive expansion of low-tech, labour-intensive and predominantly informal artisanal and small-scale gold mining. We will first conduct a mapping of the global gold production system, to understand the global roots of informalization processes. We then conduct case studies of six mining areas in three countries (Philippines, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo) with a view to understanding how informalization processes intersect with changes in local labour markets, thus affecting who stands (not) to benefit from these informalization processes.

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Consultancy E-CA CRE-AC. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

ECA — CREAC aims to promote improved access and dissemination of knowledge about central Africa. The organisation offers a platform for dialogue and exchange of information between the academic world, policy makers, civil society actors and the private sector at the Belgian, European and international level. CREAC inserts itself into a tradition of partnership between Belgium and central Africa, by critically looking at contemporary dynamics, and launching debates around the opportunities and challenges for future collaboration.

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Project website

InForMining in Peru: research and partnership on informal gold mining. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

The FWO project 'InForMining: an in-depth study of informalization in global gold production' (promotor Sara Geenen, postdoctoral researcher Boris Verbrugge, doctoral researcher Maria Eugenia Robles Mengoa) combines a global mapping of structural trends with a comparative case study analysis of ASGM expansion in different countries. One of the countries not covered in the InForMining proposal is Peru, currently the 6th important gold producer in the world and home to an interesting variety of mining sites. This Global Minds project aims at developing the case study of Peru within the InForMining framework. Second, we have been working on a VLIR TEAM proposal for a collaboration with the Universidad Nacional del Altiplano (UNA) in Puno, Peru. The second objective of the Global Minds project is hence to prepare the ground for a more sustainable engagement with UNA by organizing a research workshop and resubmitting a VLIR proposal. The InForMining project is guided by two research questions, which respectively focus on global- and local-level dynamics associated with informalization: 1. How are informalization mechanisms rooted in structural trends in the global gold production system? 2. How are informalization mechanisms restructuring local labour markets and what are the implications for the workforce?

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Socio-ecological resilience: a new perspective for artisanal and small-scale mining communities? 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

This research project explores whether the concept socio-ecological resilience can further our empirical and conceptual understanding of changes in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) communities. It has three main objectives that will address gaps in the ASM literature: 1) to improve our understanding of the internal structures, actors and dynamics of ASM communities; 2) to develop a conceptual framework to understand the interacting socio-ecological systems that surround ASM communities, by focusing on key trends transforming ASM; 3) to contribute to the literature on resilience by exploring the relationship between resilience at the community level and at the socio-ecological system level. It will use the conceptual framework of socio-ecological resilience combined with perspectives from political ecology to examine case studies – namely, two different ASM communities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In doing so, it aims to provide more holistic perspective of the role of ASM as a livelihood strategy. Moreover, the knowledge generated could be used to better inform policies and interventions to mitigate the problems that have for so long afflicted ASM communities. The findings will be published through four articles in high-impact academic journals: one article for each of my three research objectives; and a fourth to discuss the potential for socio-ecological resilience to be combined with perspectives from political ecology.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Consultancy E-CA CRE-AC vzw 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

ECA — CREAC aims to promote improved access and dissemination of knowledge about central Africa. The organisation offers a platform for dialogue and exchange of information between the academic world, policy makers, civil society actors and the private sector at the Belgian, European and international level. CREAC inserts itself into a tradition of partnership between Belgium and central Africa, by critically looking at contemporary dynamics, and launching debates around the opportunities and challenges for future collaboration.

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Research team(s)

Consultancy ECA-CREAC 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

ECA — CREAC aims to promote improved access and dissemination of knowledge about central Africa. The organisation offers a platform for dialogue and exchange of information between the academic world, policy makers, civil society actors and the private sector at the Belgian, European and international level. CREAC inserts itself into a tradition of partnership between Belgium and central Africa, by critically looking at contemporary dynamics, and launching debates around the opportunities and challenges for future collaboration.

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Project website

Towards a new theoretical framework for linkages from large-scale mining: bringing in power and the production of access and exclusion. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Resource optimists believe that large-scale mining is not only a powerful engine of economic growth, but can boost other productive sectors and thus contribute to broader social and economic development. In order to achieve this, companies and governments are now increasingly urged to promote local content policies and support local small and medium-sized enterprises especially in developing countries. Theoretically, this view is inspired by the academic literature on linkages and global commodity/value chains. What this literature fails to acknowledge, however, is that linkage development occurs in a local context that is highly politicized. Linkage development is thus affected by power, social relations and embeddedness in local institutions. In addition, it creates patterns of inclusion and exclusion, for example by giving certain groups of people access to employment and contracts, while excluding others. This is an important reason for focusing on locally-owned subcontracting companies and assessing their contribution to development. The proposed research provides this focus by theoretically extending and problematizing the notion of backward linkages. Methodologically it takes a novel approach by embedding quantitative surveys and descriptive statistics within qualitative field research focusing on a) power, social relations and embeddedness and b) patterns of access and exclusion in two selected mining concessions in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Project website

Exploratory field research on hybrid governance in mining concessions in Ghana 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

This exploratory field research in Ghana is part of my research project on 'hybrid governance in mining concessions in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo', which proposes to study the impact of transnational mining companies' activities on local governance in a novel fashion. The field research consists of 2 phases: 1) networking and introduction in selected communities, 2) qualitative data collection in selected communities.

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Project website

Transnational companies and local politics. Hybrid governance in mining concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Ghana. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Demand for mineral resources is growing, while reserves are drying up. This evolution has pushed transnational mining companies (TNCs) towards extraction in formerly inaccessible locations, including post-conflict areas. Quite often in such settings, the TNCs concerned also perform governance functions, such as providing security, social services and public infrastructure. In so doing, they conform to the requirements of 'corporate social responsibility', which is often translated as 'doing good for the community'. But in addition to delivering benefits through hospitals, schools and roads, TNCs can also damage the environment and restrict people's access to land and resources. Moreover they may induce unintended harm through channels that remain largely unobserved. The arrival of a TNC tends to affect not just the local economy, but also local politics, creating winners and losers in both arenas. The proposed research takes a novel approach in studying such political changes, drawing on the literature on hybrid governance and analyzing power and authority 'from below'. Cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana are used in a comparative study with a view to gaining insight into local conflicts in their institutional and historical contexts. This is crucial for a more general understanding and management of companycommunity conflicts, as communities are never homogeneous and conflicts are as much about authority and legitimacy as they are about resources and land.

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