Sand-winning, illegal mining threatens farmlands

Illegal mining and sand-winning practices have caused serious adverse economic, social and ecological impacts on productive farmlands – degrading vegetative cover and polluting water bodies while destroying the landscape and land aesthetics. Also, these activities have caused the spread of water-borne diseases, harm to wildlife, and destruction of biodiversity as well as conflicts or confrontations.

Aside from destroying crops and lands, illegal mining and sand-winning activities also pose threats to human health. Moving trucks emit excessive noise and dust, causing pollution; while pits and gullies created at these sites on farms and close to homes become breeding grounds for mosquitoes during rainy seasons. Lands have been permanently damaged and rendered unproductive, while beautiful landscapes that formerly offered pleasant scenery have been permanently ruined.

A study conducted by the Assin Kushea Cooperative Cocoa Farmers Society Limited with support from Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund, DANIDA and USAID assessed effects of sand illegal mining on agriculture at the Assin North district in the Central Region of Ghana. The study also sought to find out the long-term effect of illegal mining in terms of livelihoods and also food security in the area.

It pointed out that illegal mining activities, though banned, mostly occur in productive agricultural lands and have left in their tracks destroyed arable lands, open-pits, destroyed cocoa farms and polluted rivers. Areas once noted for good vegetation and topography have turned into savannah grasslands, with their own attendant consequences on food production.

The study noted out that the agricultural sector is not lucrative due to high input costs, high risk and inefficient traditional methods of production. Fertilisers and seedlings are expensive. To make agriculture attractive, agricultural experts noted that traditional rulers and local residents must develop an effective land reclamation guideline with a strong enforcement strategy to avoid an imminent environmental crisis with severe consequences on livelihoods.

Additionally, even for those who have been licenced, it is important that the state agencies responsible for enforcing environmental laws ensure they strictly comply with the regulations governing their operations to minimise the adverse effects of their activities on other sources of livelihood where they operate.

“The rampaging effects of mining and sand-winning, as shown in the study, have left in their wake visible adverse effects which include dust pollution and its attendant respiratory tract infections, among other challenges,” Seth Gyasi, Chairman of Assin Kushea Cocoa Farmers Society, told B&FT in an interview.

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He also mentioned that: “Although there is growing awareness of sound environmental management’s importance among stakeholders in the study area, mitigation strategies are possibly challenged by inconsistencies and non-availability of comprehensive regulatory bye-laws, guidelines and standards, as well as monitoring and enforcement”.

Recommendation

To address the impacts of illegal mining and sand-winning in the affected communities within the Assin North district, the association recommends the assembly must take urgent steps in consultation with stakeholders such as local chiefs, farmers, association of small-scale miners, association of sand and stone contractors as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

These stakeholders must develop detailed bye-laws and guidelines to regulate the operations of illegal mining and sand-winners in the municipality in accordance with part 5 of the Local Government Act 1993 (Act 462), which gives the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) the mandate to formulate bye-laws and guidelines in order to, among other things, regulate the exploitation of natural resources including gold and sand-winning.

The EPA should develop and strengthen binding and enforceable standards and specifications for effective regulation of the gold mining and sand-winning industries.

This should be done in consultation with all relevant stakeholders of the extractive industry in the municipality. The authorities can properly designate areas for those soils to be collected, and also ensure that prospective gold miners and sand-winners adequately complete all processes regarding effective land use, evaluation and reclamation, to allow for protection of other people’s welfare in society.

Another critical measure that can adequately insulate farmers from the adverse effects of illegal gold mining and sand-winning is to make it mandatory for the miners and sand-winning firms or individuals to have a comprehensive land reclamation strategy; and also establish an enforcement committee to ensure that the land is fully reclaimed in accordance with stipulated standards and best practices.

The association also recommends: “Every prospective gold miner or sand-winner must be bonded to deposit a lump-sum into a special account to be jointly managed by the body responsible for enforcement of the bye-laws and guidelines on gold mining and sand-winning: so that in the event a mining concern or sand-winner fails to reclaim the land after closure, the amount will be used to pay for the services of a qualified firm to restore the land into a state that can efficiently support crop cultivation.”

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This, the association noted, will empower the EPA to ensure that gold miners and sand-winners adhere to guidelines and standards as outlined in the reclamation bonds recommended. In this case, however, failure to adhere to the prescribed guidelines proposed should therefore deny the winning contractors any refunds and rights to access and open new pits anywhere in the country.

Again, the MMDAs should ensure formulation, monitoring and enforcement of bye-laws which may involve development and implementation of reclamation plans and bonds. Sensitisation and awareness-creation should be integrated into this component to ensure that people are aware of what is involved in mining and sand-winning vis-a-vis what mitigation measures are required.

The involvement of chiefs, landowners and other key persons in communities, especially in the study area, is very important in the reclamation process since they can pester contractors to follow agreed guidelines when given the power to do so within an acceptable framework.

Furthermore, tolls and levies collected by the Assin North District Assembly from sand-winning and mining contractors and tipper-trucks should be invested specifically into interventions that will mitigate the adverse effects of mining on the affected communities. It will be useful for the chiefs and family heads to involve farmers in the negotiation for allocating land for mining and sand-winning to ensure that the interests of these farmers are insulated and appropriate compensation and entry times are also clearly defined and agreed upon.

The various Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), Ghana Police Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must be well-resourced and legally empowered to prosecute individuals and companies that embark on illegal mining, sand-winning and allied activities without requisite permits and a firm post-winning/mining land reclamation strategy put in place.

The recommendation from the association concludes: “Ghana’s resolve to mitigate the negative effects of climate change may face serious hiccups should the authorities continue to be lax in clamping down on not only illegal mining and sand-winning at unauthorised locations, but also fail to reclaim already-destroyed land as an extension to the operation vanguard”.

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