For the past two decades, gold mining and agriculture have contributed consistently to economic growth and development in Ghana. In 2013, gold mining contributed US$3,673 million in exports. Agriculture employed about 60 per cent of the active labour force and cocoa, the leading cash crop, contributed an estimated US$1,731 million in exports in 2013 (Government of Ghana 2013). While farming is the traditional source of livelihood, artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) has emerged in communities endowed with natural resources as a lucrative activity due to its remarkable income-generating potential.
Mining and agriculture may co-exist and interact to generate economic and social benefits, but at the same time they compete for land, water resources and labour. On the one hand, land is seized for mining that otherwise could be used for farming; labour is attracted away from agriculture into mining; and mining pollutes water needed for farm irrigation. On the other hand, mining generates money that supplements the income of farmers who branch out into mining, allowing them to improve the productivity of their farms through buying inputs like fertilizers, and hiring labour (see: Hilson and Garforth 2012; 2013). Despite the importance of mining and agriculture to socio-economic development, the dynamics of their interaction have seldom received attention and are sometimes underestimated by scholars, governments, corporate entities and donors. There is a need for greater understanding of the mining–agriculture nexus to ensure that the two interact in a positive and balanced manner, producing social and economic development without disrupting the livelihoods of rural people whose lives are tied to farming.
The interaction is explored from two perspectives that constitute the basic components of livelihoods for rural farmers: namely, income and natural resources (i.e. land and water). This think piece argues that despite its income-generating potential, ASM is not an alternative economic activity to farming, but a complementary economic activity for some farmers. It pursues the argument that while gold generates income benefits for some individual farmers, these benefits are outweighed by the aggregate costs of ASM activities in terms of the collective loss of agricultural lands and water pollution.
The case study: Amansie Central District in Ghana
This think piece draws upon a qualitative research study in the Amansie Central District of Ghana in January and February 2014. In Amansie Central District, agriculture is the main economic activity, employing about 80 per cent of the people in both smallholder and large-scale farming.1 Farmers mainly grow cash crops like cocoa and oil palm. Some of these farmers also engage in ASM activities, largely on an informal (illegal) basis. Using in-depth open and semi-structured interviews, and participant observations, 55 cocoa farmers and miners were sampled in seven communities.2 Of the 55 farmers interviewed, 14 either engage directly in mining or a household member does.
To mine or to farm? Income, natural resources and the livelihood dilemma in Amansie Central
Income motives form the basis of livelihood diversification in rural communities. According to Barrett et al. (2001: 315), livelihood diversification is the norm in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers branch out into non-farm activities in order to secure a better livelihood (Barrett et al. 2001; Hilson and Garforth 2012). In Amansie Central District, farmers diversify into ASM to reduce the risks inherent in cocoa farming such as over-dependence on erratic rainfall patterns, lack of access to land, farm inputs and credits, poor and inaccessible roads, and lower producer prices for cocoa. It was evident during interviews and observations that many farmers seek alternative sources of income. The central difference between farming and ASM is seen in the form of income generation. Samuel Ofori Duodu, a cocoa farmer and miner, indicated that he earns about US$300 a month from artisanal mining as compared to an acre of cocoa farm that generates about US$170 per harvest within a year (Interview, 13/02/2014). This means Samuel could potentially earn US$3,600 a year compared to roughly US$340 he gets from cocoa (there are normally two cocoa harvests per year). However, revenues from mining are not regular and depend on several factors including the price of gold on the international market and the ability to explore new mining concessions which demand sophisticated machines. It is, however, obvious that ASM is more profitable than farming.
Income from mining, according to accounts of farmers (who have turned miners), enables them to hire more labourers for their cocoa farms, buy expensive fertilizers and educate their children. This finding supports research results in Hilson and Garforth (2013) who assert that income from small scale mining had “…increased families’ access to agricultural inputs, in turn, enhancing crop yields, and has enabled them to secure high quality education for their children – things which smallholder farming activities were incapable of doing” (p. 356).
Nevertheless, the co-existence of mining and farming is not a simple win-win situation: there is acute competition over land and water resources. Farmers lose their land and farms to activities of mostly informal (illegal) ASM. Hilson (2002: 21) contends that there is “perhaps no single industry that has precipitated more disputes over land-use than mining.” In communities visited during the author’s fieldwork, there were contestations regarding loss and destruction of land and farms, and pollution of water bodies. Forms of land ownership in Ghana contribute to the prevalence of land disputes. Customary land ownership and tenure exist alongside state title tenure3 and the 1992 Constitution of Ghana recognizes it. However, customary land ownership is informal, based on simple acknowledgement without any documentary proof.
Artisanal and small-scale miners (who are not farmers and are engage exclusively in mining) capitalize on this informal land ownership structure to seize lands often with little or no compensation to farmers. There are multiple cases where cocoa farms have been destroyed without the free, prior and informed consent of farmers concerned. Artisanal and small-scale miners tend to seek the consent of traditional authorities with disregard to farmers who have the right of use of the land.
Compensation paid to farmers for loss of land and farms has come under scrutiny. The mode and amount of the compensation given to farmers once in their lifetime for loss of land and farms could easily trap them in poverty. The Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) governs compensation payments and requires mining companies or an individual miner to pay affected occupiers of the land (see also: Akabzaa 2000). The crude calculation used values one cocoa tree at about 15-25 Ghana cedis (US$10-US$15). Compensation is paid once by miners (who are not farmers) to a farmer and is calculated based on the maturity of crops and what a farmer could produce from his farm within a year. But cocoa trees, as explained by an Agricultural Officer in the District Office of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), can “survive for more than 70 years” (Interview, Stephen Asiamah, 10/02/2014). John K Annoh, a farmer with a 20-acre cocoa farm, reported that “only US$750 was paid for five acre farm that was taken over by an artisanal and small-scale miner” (Interview, household head, Annoh, (10/02/2014).
The disputed claims over land use are connected to water resources too. Farmers complained over massive pollution of water sources. Field observations during the research revealed that “most water sources available to farmers for irrigation” have been polluted by ASM activities, meaning that crucially farmers are unable to irrigate their crops during the dry season (November–March), where there are no rains. Farmers interviewed indicated that irrigation makes vegetable production easy and profitable during the dry seasons. But due to water pollution by ASM activities, producing vegetables during the dry seasons is extremely difficult, if not impossible, and no longer profitable.
Livelihood support: ‘crop’ or ‘carat’?
Despite the challenges that beset farming as a consequence of mining, levels of income remain sufficient to support livelihoods. Income assessment undertaken during this field research shows that 21 out of 55 farmers interviewed earn 100-300 Ghana cedis (US$40 and US$120) while eight farmers earn between 300 and 500 Ghana cedis (US$120 and US$200) in a season harvest (Household interviews). There are on average two harvests per year. Analysing this from the perspective that these farmers also grow other food staples shows that cocoa farming supports and sustains livelihoods of farming households relatively well. Farmers summarized this point with this argument: “These houses that you see were all built with cocoa money. This is what feeds us.” This explains why farming households still have great affinity for farming, despite booming ASM.
These findings are in contrast with the assessment of Hilson and Garforth (2012: 443) in their study in East Akim District of Ghana who state that “ASM has replaced smallholder farming as the primary income-earning activity”. Their study fails to recognize that in communities that grow cash crops on a smallholder basis (and who constitute the majority of farmers), agriculture is still the primary income-earning economic activity. 41 out of the 55 smallholder and large-scale farmers interviewed said they were aware of the various challenges ASM poses. They, therefore, have little interest in ASM.
The case study research findings show that the age of farmers, size of farm and production capital are key in farmers’ decisions whether to mine or not. Farmers below the age of 50 (17 out of the 55 farmers interviewed), and especially those with less than six acres of land, were more likely to pursue mining because their cocoa production might not adequately provide for their needs in terms of farming inputs and education of the household. Farmers over the age of 50 reported very little incentive to branch out into mining. “Looking at my age, you don’t expect your grandmother to do ‘galamsey ’”,4 was the response of a 65-year old farmer (household head) with a six-acre cocoa farm responding to the question: Why are you not engaging in artisanal mining? (Interview, Akua Manu, 13/02/2014).
This research invites thinking about the interaction between mining and agriculture in the context of social livelihoods in Africa. A majority of farmers interviewed prefer in the longer term ‘crops’ to ‘carats’ because farming is more sustainable compared to ASM. Also, farming is the economic activity they have long lived with. Although ASM provides an additional source of income for some farmers, it is more of a complementary activity rather than a complete substitute for farming. The costs far outweigh the benefits ASM provides to these communities. ASM affects land and farms too often with little or no compensation. The majority (90 per cent) of farmers sampled in the district indicated that compensation is not adequate to mitigate the cost of the permanent loss of lands and destruction of cocoa farms.
1 I categorize smallholder farms as those with less than six acres of land. Large-scale farms are those with six acres or more of land.
2 Communities included: Jacobu (district capital), Fiankoma, Behenase, Akutuase, Bepotintin, Oseikrom and Fenaso.
3 In Ghana, there are two basic categories of land ownership and tenure. Land either belongs to the state or to the stools. The ‘stool’ refers to the customary throne, or more generally to a tribe or tribal leader. It could be a traditional authority (the chief) or the head of a family. The stool holds land in trust and on behalf of the community or a family. About 20 per cent of land is owned by the State and stools own 80 per cent (Aubynn 2006).
4 Artisanal mining is locally referred to as ‘galamsey2, literally from ‘gather them and sell’, a description of how gold extraction activities take place.
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Hilson, Gavin and Chris Garforth. 2013. “‘Everyone is Now Concentrating on the Mining’: Drivers and Implications of Rural Economic Transition in the Eastern Region of Ghana”. Journal of Development Studies 49:3, 348-364.
Photo credit: Rebecca Bollwitt