ASM communities and critical ecosystems – South Kivu

Summary of Fergus Simpson’s PhD project:

Despite the global proximity of protected areas to metal mining activities (Duran et al 2013), surprisingly few social science studies have attempted to unpack the complex relationships between artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) and critical ecosystems. The studies that do exist tend to be apolitical and decontextualized from local realities (see for example Ingram et al 2011 and Spira et al 2016). A deeper, more qualitative understanding of the relationship between ASM communities and critical ecosystems is yet to be developed.

Using a conceptual framework that combines perspectives from socio-ecological resilience (see Gunderson and Holling 2002) and political ecology (see Robbins 2008), Fergus’ research aims to address this gap in the literature.

The project will be guided by three research questions:

RQ1. What are the significant interactions between ASM communities and critical ecosystems?

RQ2. How do broader ecological, economic, political and social systems mediate interactions between ASM communities and critical ecosystems?

RQ3. What is the relationship between resilience at the level of ASM communities and at the level of critical ecosystems?

Fergus will explore these questions by collecting data in two case study sites: Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) and Itombwe Nature Reserve (INR), both protected areas in DRC’s South Kivu province. A mixed methods comparative case study design will be used in which qualitative and quantitative data will be collected and analysed concurrently (Cresswell and Plano Clark 2018). These cases represent two different approaches to managing ASM in critical ecosystems. In KBNP, ASM is illegal. Whereas in INR, some ASM is permitted in the Reserve’s multiple-use zone. Qualitative data will be gathered from ASM communities and key stakeholders to examine the dynamics of ASM in both sites. In addition, quantitative data will be collected in the form of household surveys in ASM communities at both sites. The reason for using both forms of data is to develop an in-depth understanding of the cases and to make a comparison among them. All data will be collected between August 2019 and August 2020.


Cresswell, J., Plano Clark, V. 2018.Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research. Third Edition. London: Sage Publications.

Duran, A. et al. 2013. Global spatial coincidence between protected areas and metal mining activities. Biological Conservation. 160, pp.272-278.

Ingram, V.J. et al. 2015. Where artisanal mines and forest meet: socio-economic and environmental impacts in the Congo Basin. Natural Resources Forum. 35(4), pp. 304-320.