MALI: Children scrape by on scrap

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Seyba Traoré, aged 11, and his brother Moumini, 9, set out each morning with big bags slung over their shoulders to sort through the capital’s many rubbish dumps in search of scrap metal - car or motorbike parts, old lamps, curtain-rods - any old iron objects will do.

They sell on their haul each afternoon at 12 US cents per kilogram to a buyer they know only as Hamdallaye.

”Sometimes we can earn up to US$4.80 a day, and if there is a large pile of scrap we can make even more,” Seyba told IRIN. "Thanks to this money, we can eat well, and we have clothes.”

Moumini and Seyba are just two of the many children who dominate the supply-side of the increasingly lucrative scrap-metal trade. It is common to see children bicycling around the capital laden with heavy pieces of iron to bring to shops that are opening up all over the capital to buy and then sell on the scrap.

Ousmane Traoré, 13, left his parents in his village of Kelaya, 160km from Bamako, to become a scrap scavenger. "It's tiring, this work, I have to sort through all sorts of rubbish and it smells bad, but what can I do? I earn my living in this rubbish and I can save a bit of money for my parents at home.”

Higher profit margins

As the industry grows the profit margins are getting higher each year, even for the children. Shopkeeper Madou Sanogo has been buying scrap in Boulkassoumbougou, a neighbourhood in Bamako, since 2002. “When I started you could buy 1kg from a supplier for 1 US cent, now it’s 12 US cents it really is a booming industry.”

But it is the buyers - mostly adults - who are reaping most of the benefits. Sanogo continued: “I buy the scrap at 12 US cents per kilogram and will sell it on to buyers for double that.”

Sanogo first got involved through his brother, who was a mechanic and collected scrap in their yard. “One day I met an Indian man who bought the whole lot and asked me to look for more. That’s when I had the idea of opening this shop… We signed a contract and now they regularly pick it up,” he said.

Many of the buyers come from other West African countries, and some from as far as India to export the metal for resale.

“Better than begging”

“If I collect enough metal”, Yacou Coulibaly, who owns a scrap shop, told IRIN, “I can re-sell it to a Côte d’Ivoire businessman for a small profit… with a trailer full of scrap I can make a US$600 profit.”

And some of this money ends up benefiting the state. According to an adviser in the mayor’s office, many buyers are setting up legitimate businesses, paying US$335 for a licence, and contributing an average of US$7.20 in taxes per month.

“They also help clean up the city by clearing piles of scrap metal that litter the streets,” Coulibaly said.

However, as the business has internationalised and the wages have increased, the market is getting overcrowded. “Now it is difficult to find enough iron, whereas before, that wasn’t the case. Our supplies are dropping bit by bit,” he complained.

Despite the difficulties, many buyers and sellers are pleased to be involved. As Coulibaly put it, “I think this is better than begging.”

Source: IRIN