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Farmlands under siege…By small-scale miners

galamsey 2SMALL-SCALE miners, both legal and illegal, have besieged cocoa farms and  oil palm plantations in parts of the Ashanti and Central regions, destroying large acres of the cash crop in search of gold.

Apart from not paying adequate compensation to farmers, some of the small-scale miners, particularly the illegal (‘galamsey’) operators, are said to be taking over the farmlands with the use of arms, as farmers flee from the source of their livelihood for dear life.

The Daily Graphic could not ascertain the extent of destruction that the mining activities have caused to cocoa farms and oil palm plantations in terms of statistical figures, but the situation on the ground leaves no doubt that small-scale mining is causing havoc to cocoa and oil palm production.

During a recent visit to the Amansie West and Amansie Central districts in the Ashanti Region and the Upper Denkyira East District in the Central Region, the Daily Graphic observed a number of cocoa farms and oil palm plantations that had been cleared for small-scale mining.

Cocoa farmers
Many cocoa farmers have been rendered jobless as small-scale miners had taken over their farmlands for gold mining.

In Tarkwa, the issue of selling cocoa farms to small-scale miners has landed in court as affected farmers and some traditional leaders engage in a fierce contest for their respective interests.

The Ghana Cocoa Coffee Shea-nut Farmers Association (GCCSFA) has been waging a strong campaign against the sale of cocoa farms to small-scale miners.

The President of the association, Alhaji Alhassan Bukari, appealed to traditional leaders to stop the indiscriminate sale of cocoa farms to small-scale miners while calling on the government to intervene in the matter.

“Something should be done, else our cocoa will die through `galamsey’,” he told the Daily Graphic.

Alhaji Bukari said cocoa contributed significantly to the country’s economy and overall development, citing the construction of roads, schools and clinics across the country to buttress his claim.

He said while opening a Cocoa Clinic at Debiso in the western Region recently, he asked the people of the area; “Has `galamsey’ built a clinic for you?”

He said the money traditional leaders earned from selling cocoa farms to small-scale miners would be squandered in a short time but cocoa was a legacy for the present generation and posterity.

Cocoa contribution
According to the State of the Ghanaian Economy Report (SGER) 2012 released recently by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) of the University of Ghana, the cocoa sub-sector performed poorly in respect of gross domestic product (GDP) contribution.

The report advised the government to focus on the cocoa sub-sector to sustain its contribution to national
GDP.

The government has already initiated a number of programmes, such as the Cocoa Disease and Pest Control Programme (CODAPEC), to boost cocoa production.

Under the programme, the government has allocated funds for pest control, fertiliser supply and improved planting materials for cocoa farmers.

However, all those interventions may be hugely dissipated by small-scale mining unless the government takes urgent steps to rescue cocoa farms from the onslaught of ‘galamsey’ operators.

Impact on oil palm
The impact of small-scale mining on oil palm production is not known in quantitative terms, but the Oil Palm Research Institute (OPRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) believes it is very profound.

The Director of the OPRI, Dr Sylvester Dery, said the impact of small-scale mining on oil palm production was two-fold, first, the physical destruction of farmlands and secondly, the effect of chemicals used in mining on oil palm produce.

With respect to the physical destruction of farmlands, he said after the small-scale farmers had cleared the farms and undertaken their mining activities, they left the pits uncovered, thus rendering the land dangerous and useless.

On the chemical effect, Dr Dery said, mercury and arsenic chemicals used in small-scale mining were highly toxic, describing them as a time bomb.

He said mercury, for Instance, was not easily degradable and once oil palm trees and the oil produce thereof became highly contaminated with the chemicals, they posed serious health risk.
According to him, mercury could affect the human brain even many years after consumption.
Dr Dery said another impact was at highly contaminated oil palm and its products were not acceptable on the world market.
He said it was very expensive to clean soil contaminated with mercury and other chemicals.
“One means of cleaning the soil is through the biochar method, which is by applying activated charcoal to the soil to absorb the contaminants.
“We are talking to the farmers to address these issues but they are helpless because the people (small-scale miners) come and they are violent,” he said.

Environmental challenges
The Director of Mining at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mr Ransford Sakyi, corroborated the assertions of Dr Dery in respect of the harm chemicals used in mining caused the environment.
He said mining was like preparing an omelette; it could not be done without breaking an egg. But the willingness to comply with regulations and manage the environment well after the mining activity was very important.
Mr Sakyi noted that the improper management of mercury and sodium cyanide to amalgamate gold posed a major challenge to the environment.
Oil palm project
In an effort to salvage the situation, the Minerals Commission has initiated an oil palm replantation project to restore mined lands to their economic usefulness and give back to farmers what mining has taken away from them in respect of livelihood.
Under the project, the commission has nursed about 3300 oil palm seedlings at Dunkwa Ayamfuri in the Upper Denkyira East District in the Central Region for cultivation on lands reclaimed after mining activities in parts of the district.
The five-year project involves the distribution of the oil palm seedlings to farmers, apart from an unspecified amount of money for clearing their lands for cultivation.
The Minerals Commission had earlier undertaken a similar project at Prestea in the Western Region. :a

The Upper Denkyira East District Mining Officer of the Mineral Commission, Mr Wilson Waanab Zoogah, said the project was to give alternative livelihood support to farmers.
He said apart from the oil palm seedlings, the commission would give fertilisers to the farmers for free and inter-plant subsistence crops that farmers could live on while waiting to harvest the oil palm fruits.
He advised small-scale miners in the district who had finished reclaiming their lands and farmers in the area to take advantage of the project to cultivate the oil palm seedlings and make a living from it.

Source: Daily Graphic

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Reporting Oil and Gas project was launched on 4th June 2009atTakoradi, Western Region, Ghana by Penplusbytes (PPB – www.penplusbytes.org) with the vision of providing a one stop online information and knowledge about Ghana’s oil and gas sector
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