In Nacaroa district, in the northern Mozambican province of Nampula, many children are dropping out of school in order to carry out artisanal mining for gold.

Their parents also prefer illicit, and often dangerous, mining to working the fields, even though Nacaroa is highly fertile.

The problem is particularly prounced in the regons of Nacope and Mahepa, about 200 kilometres from Nacaroa town, where many schools are short of pupils, and farmland is abandoned.

A team monitoring the 2016-2017 agricultural campaign recently visited Nacaroa and warned against the prioritising of artisanal mining at the expense of education and agriculture.

It urged the local administration to raise the awareness of the Nacaroa population that children should not be used as mine labour, and that peasant producers should priortise agriculture.

Journalists from the Mozambican news agency, AIM, who accompanied the team, found a belief that artisanal mining can somehow solve the problems faced by Nacaroa residents, despite the evident risks of hunger if crops are not planted, and of illiteracy if children do not attend school.

The electronic newsheet Wamphula Fax also notes the damage done to roads and rivers by mining because the reckless digging has created craters in some roads, and watercourses have been poisoned.

The Nacaroa district administrator, Joaquina Charles, confirmed that the traditional forms of mining involve schoolchildren and peasants, and has damaging effects.

In this district, mining is undertaken individually and in a disorganised fashion, she said, and the results in economic terms are not always palpable. But she did not believe that mining would compromise agriculture in the district.

As for schoolchildren, Charles said we have advised the boys and their parents or guardians to practise mining in their spare time, and not during school hours.

The district government, in co-ordination with the Nampula Provincial Directorate of Energy and Mineral Resources, is working to set up an association of artisanal miners, and is looking for a businessman who can organize mining activities, so that the sale of the final product ceases to be arbitrary and anarchic.

Local residents disagee with the district administrator, and fear that mining is damaging food production. On man interviewed by AIM, Francisco Alberto, confirmed that some peasants have completely abandoned farming, and are working exclusively in informal mining.

What many of us know is that there (in the mines) we waste a lot of time in vain. I say this because I have seen people who are going hungry, he said.

Alfredo Faustino agreed and told AIM that many families have suffered hunger because they were deceived into believing that artisanal mining would improve their living conditions.

Across Nampula province, there is informal mining, not only for gold, but also for precious and semi-precious stones, and for building materials. Most of the artisanal mining is unregistered and illegal, and contributes nothing to the finances of the Mozambican state.

The miners make no attempt to repair the damage to the environment once they have exhausted an area. They leave the holes they have dug behind, which worsens the problems of soil erosion.