Mineral extraction in the country dates back to antiquity. Mining, especially for gold, has been a venture providing employment either directly or indirectly for a percentage of the country’s population.
Currently, the country is ranked the world’s 10th and Africa’s second largest producer of gold, following South Africa, with the 2012 production estimated at 4.3 million ounces of gold.
Mining and the economy
The mining sector contributes significantly to the country’s economy. The sector accounted for more than 27 per cent of the fiscal receipts by the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) in 2012.
However, in 2013, the sector contributed 19 per cent to GRA’s fiscal receipts due to some factors that affected the commodity.
Gold remains the highest contributor in the mining sector, with large-scale gold mining accounting for over 80 per cent by value of the total income from the sector.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Chamber of Mines, Mr Sulemanu Koney, in a speech during this year’s Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Awards held at the Banquet Hall in Accra, said in spite of the decline in the price of gold, the mining sector continued to be a leading source of fiscal revenue to the state.
He said in 2014, the sector contributed GH¢1.24 billion to the national kitty through the GRA, adding that “This represents 16.2 per cent of total direct tax in 2014 relative to a share of 18.7 per cent in 2013”.
The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MFEP) 2012 and 2013 report on the Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GHEITI) states that “Small-scale and artisanal mining accounted for 34 per cent of gold production in the country.
According to WACCAM, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), it is believed that an estimated 1,000,000 people are employed in the small-scale mining sector, which includes ‘galamsey’.
The illegal miners use crude mining methods involving casting soil away from the earth’s surface and digging deep trenches into the earth crust in their search for the gold.
The dug-out soil and rocks containing the gold are ground with a machine into powder after which the powder is washed in a river or stream with chemicals such as mercury to extract the gold.
Some of the illegal miners have even extended the practice to their own homes to escape being caught by the law enforcers.
A story carried by the Daily Graphic on Thursday, October 13, 2015, reported that 12 persons were arrested in a police swoop at Konongo-Odumase for engaging in illegal in-house mining.
Earlier, 16 other persons were also arrested in the same vicinity for engaging in a similar practice.
In-house mining involves the digging of galamsey pits in people’s homes to enable them to enter the bowels of the earth to search for gold.
According to health experts, the use of mercury, cyanide and other chemicals by the illegal miners poses health risks to people who drink from rivers or streams containing those materials.
Some illegal miners have diverted water courses to enable them to mine in the rivers. This has led to the destruction of people’s farms whenever the diverted water courses overflow their banks.
Sustainable Development Goals
Goal 15 of the United Nations’ (UN’s) new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), popularly known as Agenda 2030, talks about how to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.
War against galamsey
Many public-spirited Ghanaians have added their voices to the many calls to end the activities of galamsey operators but the practice keeps escalating. The menace is said to be worse in the Western, Central, Eastern, Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions, which are endowed with the precious minerals.
Several factors are believed to be thwarting the country’s efforts to curb illegal mining activities. Some chiefs, opinion leaders, politicians, security personnel, and religious leaders are believed to be interfering with the work of law enforcers by appealing to them to release those arrested for the illegality. For instance, the government constituted a taskforce in 2013 to stop the illegal miners and bring perpetrators to book but little is heard of them these days, while the practice continues unabated all over the country.
It seems that those arrested for galamsey are often detained for a few hours in police cells and freed to go back to their business due to interferences.
“My brother, I am very much aware of the dangers involved in this work but there is nothing I can do. This is what I do to feed my family,” Mr Francis Amponsah, an illegal miner at Pepesa, a community in the Prestea-Huni Valley District in the Western Region, explained in an interview.
Many large mining firms in the country, including Newmont, Anglogold Ashanti, and Goldfields Ghana Limited, have all expressed worry about the activities of illegal miners.
It is sad to mention that some well-known rivers in the country such as Ankobra, Pra, Oti, Densu, and Birim have all been polluted through the activities of illegal mining.
Many plantations such as cocoa farms, oil palm, rubber and cashew, as well as forest reserves have also been destroyed to make way for the illegal mining activities. Some foreign nationals, particularly the Chinese, have also joined the illegal industry with heavy duty machines to aid their work. These foreigners are often armed and there have been reported cases of them killing inhabitants whose farms were destroyed and those who tried to halt their activities.
Both women and children are involved in the galamsey work. Women in particular are used as cooks, porters of the sand containing the gold, and sometimes as sex workers.
Students in galamsey areas are noted for their abysmal performance in school due to their truancy.
Master Stephen Boakye, a Junior High School pupil at Pepesa, said in an interview, “I will stop the galamsey when I get to form three”.
Many innocent people and the illegal miners themselves have met their untimely deaths by either falling into the uncovered galamsey pits or being trapped under them whenever the pits caved in.
It is important to mention that while mining generally has its own hazards on the environment, responsible mining reduces these impacts to their lowest levels.