At the height of the galamsey menace, many agric-industry stakeholders bemoaned the magnitude of destruction that had been visited on the country’s landscape. Indeed, one of the areas of national life that directly felt the brunt of wanton destruction of land under the guise of mining was agriculture.
It will be recalled that in 2017 the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), urged all Galamsey operators across the country to stop destroying the environment and take up farming as a profitable business. “Galamsey activities have taken over the land of the farmers and polluted and poisoned the water-bodies. We (PFAG) did a research and realised that most of the water was full of arsenic; actually, in some of the foodstuff and vegetable produce there were traces of arsenic in the food.
“That is why we are emphasising our support for government’s actions against galamsey activities in the country. We (PFAG) are inviting the galamsey people to join us do and farming: now that agriculture is being transformed in Ghana, farming is the safest, most secure, and least troublesome area to engage in,” PFAG’s Northern Regional Coordinator, Mrs. Victoria Adongo, advised at the time.
The plea by PFAG represented only one of several calls that were made by individuals and institutions within and without the industry. It was obvious that the threat to agriculture was real and had to be stopped quickly.
Fast-forward to 2019: small-scale mining has just emerged from a ban that had been effected to save Ghana from the marauding impact of the poorly regulated practice. The ban on small-scale mining has been lifted amid assurances by government that a practical roadmap has been developed to aid land reclamation efforts that will help us salvage the huge swathes of precious arable land which have been destroyed by energetic young Ghanaians – who in collusion with foreigners waged an inadvertent war on the country’s lands and water-bodies.
While government’s decision has been hailed by some as a restoration of thousands of legitimate livelihoods linked to the subsector, we must not forget so quickly the harrowing images of water-bodies and acreage lying desolate. Media images depicting the extent of destruction to the environment was simply shocking, to say the least.
We have hurt our environment, and by extension agriculture, so much that we can’t afford another spell of mindless assaults on a sector that essentially represents the lifeblood of our nation. To achieve this, however, we must commit to doing things right; particularly now that we seem to have an opportunity for a fresh start.
Sticking to the roadmap
First, the roadmap developed by government to bring sanity to the mining sector must be followed to the letter. This will go quite some distance to mitigate the threat of mining to agriculture. There is absolutely no reason why a responsible mining subsector cannot thrive alongside agriculture. Both are immensely important to national development, and we must work hard to ensure that neither thrives to the detriment of the other.
While intricacies of the roadmap are not exhaustively known to me, I believe the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and other relevant agric-institutions must work to make sure that the harm caused to agriculture at the height of the challenge is reversed and the gains made truly sustained.
Again, a practical sensitisation-drive aimed at educating community dwellers of the need to jealously protect their environment is crucial to ensuring the huge gains made are not reversed through negligence.
To ensure this strategy thrives, government must make genuine efforts to involve traditional chiefs – many of whom are complicit in the mess that galamsey brought to some of the most-hit communities around the country.
In schools, we must make an effort to instil and reinforce respect for the environment in our children to ensure that we raise a responsible crop of individuals who will religiously guard the environment; especially now that climate change has emerged as a lively threat to agriculture, and by extension, the world.
Stiffer punishment for offenders
In Ghana, one of the most regrettable aspects of our social behaviour is how poorly we enforce our rules. Rules are hurriedly made, but enforcement often falls short of expectations. This cannot be allowed as we seek to consolidate the recent gains made.
A crime against agriculture is a crime against the very essence of human existence. Stiff and unrelenting punishment must be meted out to those who deliberately flout laws meant to safeguard agriculture. That way, we will dissuade people from engaging in practices that destroy precious arable land and predisposes others to the risks that come in tow with irresponsible mining.
The ban on small-scale mining may have been lifted, but some of us have chosen to receive the new development with cautious optimism. While we all concede that the development is a huge relief for a large section of society, we implore government and the regulatory authorities not to forget how much of a threat the practice was to agriculture at its peak.
The present administration has done a fantastic job with its Planting for Food and Jobs initiative, and we must ensure that we push the initiative even further. Recent reports that Ghana has begun exporting huge volumes of food to neighbouring countries is proof that a local agricultural sector devoid of preventable distractions can indeed put Ghana on the path to economic greatness.
Mining undoubtedly has a significant place in our national life; but we must never lose sight of the fact that while the significance of mining could decline with time, agriculture will feed us, treat our ailments and feed our manufacturing industry perpetually. The onus is therefore on all to ensure that we jealously guard agriculture to guarantee that our rise to global agricultural prominence becomes even swifter.