BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali has allowed informal gold mining to resume after a three-month suspension during which the government restructured the sector to capture more tax revenue, the mines minister said on Wednesday.

Africa’s third biggest gold producer behind South Africa and Ghana, Mali’s informal mining sector has exploded in recent years and more than 1 million miners now work on at least 350 sites, according to a chamber of mines estimate.

“We decided that, from now on, everyone who comes to digging sites must possess an identification card,” Tiemoko Sangare, the minister, said on state radio.

Mali exported more than 16 tonnes of artisanally mined gold in the first four months of this year and on track to export 50 tonnes for the year, equaling industrial output.

Mali has also become an export hub for gold mined in neighboring countries, and a lack of sector regulation has made estimating its true production levels difficult.

Diggers will be required to sell their output to government authorized buying offices located at mining sites, which the authorities hope will boost tax revenue and allow for more traceability.

Mali exported 67 tonnes of gold valued at $2.2 billion in 2016. Of that, over 20 tonnes was considered artisanal exports.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Joe Bavier Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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