Gold mining in Tanzania

The two sides of gold

On the one hand, over 100 million people worldwide make a living from gold mining. On the other hand, working in gold mines poses a massive threat to the health and safety of workers. In Tanzania, many artisanal mines secure the livelihoods of the population. With the help of its partners, SWISSAID supports people in improving conditions in the gold mines and market access. For example in the Geita region in the north of the country.


Country, region:
Geita, Tanzania
January 2023 - December 2025
Direct: 2500 miners; indirect: 1,604,500 people
Total project budget:
CHF 806'511


In order to improve conditions in the gold mines, SWISSAID, with the help of its partners Hakirasilimali and FADEVten model mines to work in a way that meets environmental and health criteria. Once they are operating according to these new standards, these mines will serve as examples for other artisanal mines in order to generate momentum at local level. In parallel, advocacy for better regulations in the artisanal gold sector will be carried out at local and national level.

The project is financially supported by the SDC.

Tanzania. In the northwest of the country. Nestled in a picturesque green landscape, there are table mountains full of gold ore. Heavily laden trucks hum towards the large centers. Improvised holes, surrounded by small huts where men and women wash and reduce the rock, characterize the picture. The Geita region is a hotspot for gold. People flock here from all over the country. In search of a bit of luck. And a small income to send to their relatives to alleviate their hunger.

The work is dangerous, one of the most dangerous of all. Especially in the small, private and informal mines. Time and again, fatal accidents occur in the narrow holes, which branch out to depths of up to 50 meters. Young people often climb down into the holes and work underground for seven hours. With little air supply. Long-term consequences are part of everyday life: the dusty air and toxic mud leave threatening traces in the lungs, on the skin and on the heart.

Large and small players

Theonestina Mwasha, an engineer specializing in minerals for the SWISSAID partner organization FADEV, estimates that 1.5 million people in Tanzania earn their income from gold mining. They use these earnings to feed their families: one miner usually supports six people. In total, around 9 million people in the country are dependent on the shimmering raw material. That is 15 percent of the entire population.

If you look around the world, the figure is even more impressive: studies assume that well over 100 million people worldwide live off gold revenues – and thus free themselves from hunger. Most of the world’s gold is extracted in industrial mines, namely around 80 percent. These huge mining sites belong to international corporations. They are professionally organized and integrated into international trade – but only a small proportion of the local population finds work there.

According to Theonestina Mwasha (right), working in small artisanal mines is “often the only way to lead an independent life”. Around 20 percent of the income comes from these mines; they secure the livelihood of the local population.

What’s more, they are often robbed of their livelihoods. Local people are displaced and informal settlements are built around the huge mining areas. And the substances used, such as cyanide, are poisoning the groundwater. “Several studies show that the food security of the population in the vicinity of some industrial mining areas is impaired,” says Marc Ummel, gold expert at SWISSAID.

Around 20 percent comes from artisanal, small-scale mines – but many more locals make a living from them. “Working there is often the only way to lead an independent life,” says Theonestina Mwasha.

Precarious working conditions

Working conditions are often precarious in the uncontrolled mining sites. The miners need mercury to extract the gold from the rock – with dangerous consequences for people and the environment. In addition, the miners lack direct access to the market and credit. As a result, they often have to sell their finds below market value.

SWISSAID and partner organizations want to change this. For six years, they have been working in Tanzania to improve working conditions and market access in artisanal mines and to demand better state regulation.

In three selected mining sites, SWISSAID is working with partner organizations to train workers on hazards and environmental degradation and distribute protective clothing. As in Geita and Kahama in October 2023, where workers received 160 pairs of gloves, helmets, reflectors, safety boots and protective goggles.

Loans and protective material

Josefina John belongs to a group of women who are supported by the project. They learn to collect figures and keep clean accounts – because without accounts, they cannot obtain loans from the finance companies. And without loans, it is almost impossible to obtain licenses to sell the gold legally and at market prices.

Josefina still remembers the hard work without protective clothing. Her hands were cracked and bleeding from the constant hammering. Touching them hurt her children. She can protect her hands with the robust gloves and her eyes with the glasses. She is certain: “When you are safe, your family is also safe!”

Persistence shows effect

However, work in the field is only a drop in the ocean. This is why SWISSAID, together with partner organizations, is also working at a political level – to sustainably improve the structures for artisanal mines and also offer small-scale miners access to the state-regulated market. For Marc Ummel, one thing is clear: “With legal, fair market access for small-scale miners, the world has a powerful lever to pave a sustainable path out of hunger in the Global South.”