Cofounders Samwel Bahebe, Thomas Cornew and Eduard Cornew in Mwanza, Tanzania, on their first joint tour of an ASGM site.
Learn about the insights that motivated Mwamba’s mission to eliminate mercury in Tanzania’s Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sector.
Mission: To sustainably develop artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and eliminate mercury in the sector.
Mwamba is making small-scale gold mining a more dignified and rewarding occupation for those who depend on it. Mwamba combats ASGM mercury dependency by providing miners with access to clean and efficient processing technologies. We help our partner miners meet the criteria needed to access formalized gold markets, improving the safety and productivity of their operations for compliance with international standards and regulations.
Samwel Bahebe (left), Ed Cornew (middle) and Thomas Cornew (right) founded Mwamba in February of 2018 during their senior year of undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College.
Sam was born and raised in Mwanza, Tanzania, where he grew up surrounded by Lake Victoria’s vibrant gold mining industry. Through his upbringing, Sam came to appreciate the social consequences of small-scale gold mining industry and the struggles of those directly involved. In 2017, Sam approached Thomas and Ed to help him design a mercury retort for Tanzanian small-scale miners. The mercury retort would be easily assembled using locally available materials, helping small-scale gold miners re-capture and re-use their mercury emissions. By reducing mercury released in to the environment, retorts help small-scale gold miners decrease the risk of mercury toxicity for themselves and others in their community.
That winter, Sam invited Eduard and Thomas to travel to Tanzania and look at the problem first hand. After a few days of touring small-scale gold mining sites in Geita, Tanzania, the trio arrived at the conclusion that mercury retorts were an insufficient means of addressing mercury pollution. While mercury retorts reduce mercury emissions, they do not address the fundamental problem of mercury processing. After learning that mercury only captures ~30% of the available gold in ore, the trio recognized a business opportunity in helping small-scale miners access more economically and environmentally viable processing technologies. With this in mind, they set out to learn about locally available processing alternatives. After some networking, they were invited to tour some local “vat leaching” facilities outfitted with rudimentary implementations of cyanidation technology. When properly managed, cyanidation methods are capable of capturing between 85%-95% of available gold. After visiting these facilities and consulting industry experts they identified 2 fundamental issues with the existing processing centers they had visited
- Mismanaged: The operators do not know how to effectively implement leaching technology. Feedback from industry experts indicates operating practices seen largely undermine the economic and environmental benefits of the technology.
- Underutilized: These centers are poorly integrated in their local small-scale gold mining economies and often sit empty. They primarily process the material of the mining operation which commissioned the facility. They attempt to fill surplus capacity by renting the facility to other small-scale miners, but struggle to do so. Most small-scale miners rely on the gold produced from their ore for liquidity, and are not sufficiently capitalized to pay to use a processing facility in advance of processing their material.
With these insights, the founders decided to radically expand their goal. Rather than using mercury retorts to curb mercury emissions, they would help miners access modern-processing technology and discontinue mercury dependency. Modern processing techniques are more safe and efficient than mercury processing methods, yielding twice the gold with no chemical releases.
Mercury processing alternatives must become readily accessible if ASGM is to realize it’s potential as a sustainable poverty-alleviating economy for rural communities in developing nations.