Pollution may force Ghana's farmers into illegal mining

Environmental groups have for several years accused mining companies in Ghana of destroying the environment. In a strange twist of events, it now seems that farmers have turned to illegal mining as a result of the devastation of the pollution caused by mining activities.

Ghana’s ranking among gold-producing countries by volume improved from 11th in 2005 to 10th in 2006. Production from new mines such as Chirano Gold Mines and Newmont Ghana Bold have offset the effects of the declining output from established mines, according to Jurgen Eijgendaal, president of the Ghana Chamber of Mines.

Gold mining is the sector worst hit by the activities of illegal miners.
Revenue from gold, which accounted for the highest proportion of total mineral revenue, dropped by 5,79% in 2007 compared with the first quarter of the previous year.

This is because the mining sector’s success story has another side. For example, in Obuasi, a mining town in the middle of the country, farmers claim their crops are doing badly because of the gold mining that has taken place in the town for more than 100 years.

Kwabene Edusei has been a farmer of oranges for many years. He says through an interpreter that “all my trees have gone because the big people said work at the mines has brought something that has killed the trees”. For many years, environmentalists claim, the cyanide used in mining operations in the Obuasi area has degraded the soil.

This allegation has been refuted by Nana Ando, director of the government’s Environmental Protection Agency, who claims that the mining companies have started complying with good environmental management practices.

He says the number of mining companies that have signed that on to ISO 14001 and the international cyanide-management code has been encouraging.

ISO 14001 is an international code of practice for environmental management. The voluntary cyanide code was developed with, among others, the United Nations Environmental Programme, and is focused on the safe management of cyanide in gold-mine production.

However, Edusei says these interventions “have come too late because our farms have been destroyed”.

Illegal mining

Now it seems that the people living in mining communities who have complained about the negative effects of the mining on farming have turned to illegal mining activities.

On January 4 this year, 37 miners were nearly killed when they were trapped underground for almost nine hours at South African company AngloGold Ashanti’s mine at Obuasi. This happened because illegal miners interfered with electrical cables connected to the mine shaft.

This comes at a time when Robbie Lazare, AngloGold Ashanti’s vice-president for Africa, has threatened to close down the mine if it continues to operate at a loss.

Last year, the Obuasi mine’s production was 18,6% below target. Production for January to September 2007 was 9,6% below target, says Lazare.

With the mine being the largest employer in the district, it is feared that if the illegal mining is not brought to a halt, the company’s continued existence could be threatened with grave consequences for the people in the area.

Illegal mining has spread from Obuasi to the Twifu-Hemang area in the western part of the country. The government’s attempts at providing water with a $59-million project to the people in the Cape Coast municipality are being delayed because of illegal mining activities.

The River Pra, the main source of water supply for the project, has been polluted with chemicals that the illegal miners use to extract minerals, says Mac-Doe Hanyabui, regional manager of the Ghana Water Company.

These activities are making headlines. It is becoming difficult for environmentalists to continue their fight for the people against the mining companies because the illegal miners are now possibly destroying the environment more than the companies. The latter are, after all, regulated.

Regarding the overall picture of revenues from minerals, the Ghana Chamber of Mines says that the sale of gold, diamond, bauxite and manganese during the second quarter of last year brought in $422,7-million.

This figure represents a 6,82% drop from the first quarter of 2007, according to the chamber. However, compared with the second quarter of 2006, it represents an almost 30% increase.

Diamond revenue, according to the chamber, improved by about 11% during the first quarter of 2007 and by about 8% compared with the second quarter of 2006.

However, manganese revenue dipped considerably—by about 49% when the first quarters of 2006 and 2007 are compared.—IPS

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