BAMAKO - Mali exported a record 70.2 tonnes of gold in 2015, up from 53.2 tonnes the previous year, due to higher production by small-scale artisanal miners, the national statistics institute said on Saturday.

Mali is the third biggest gold producer in Africa behind South Africa and Ghana. Production in 2015 was valued at $2.2 billion and of the total exported 46.5 tonnes was mined by industrial producers, up 0.7 tonnes on the previous year.

The other 23.7 tonnes was mined by artisanal producers, up 16.3 tonnes on the previous year. Artisanal exports have risen in recent years.

"These figures show that small-scale mining is on the move. It's a dynamic sector that could produce almost as much as the mining companies. That's why authorities need to organise the sector," said former miner Abdoulaye Pona, who is now the president of the Chamber of Mines.

The record is significant for Mali, whose economy has been hurt by political instability in the north and attacks by militants from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Mali is one of the world's poorest states and is vulnerable to climate change. The West African country has more than 350 sites for small-scale mining and more than 1 million people are involved in the industry, according to the mines ministry.