Responsible Mining in Ghana


Mention the word mining and an apocalyptic scene pops into mind…

Mirny Diamond Mine in Russia

 

There’s no denying that mining has an impact on the environment; it affects landscapes, flora, and fauna. Natural species can be damaged or cause significantly affected animals to flee the area to escape the constant disturbance of the mining activity. Leaving a previously mined area unrehabilitated is poor practice, which has changed in most places. This is a story about good practices in mining and the growing number of companies that return the landscape to its original state in an attempt to leave as little permanent environmental impact as possible. We will examine a closure plan in this blog piece, as it works to remedy some of the environmental impact from mining activity with the purpose of leaving behind a legacy of environmental remediation and post-mining land use for the local communities in which the mine was based. 
 
SIKA Mining (name changed for privacy) is a unique mine. Throughout its development, SIKA has had 10 mines on its property, both open pit and underground, in the Western Region of Ghana. These mining sites are interspersed between many communities which have both benefited from the mining activity as well as have been affected by it. The mine hires local labour wherever and whenever possible, but highly skilled labour is also brought in from other parts of Ghana. Because of the nature of the mine, SIKA Mining shares its roads, utilities and services with these communities and maintains services for them.
A local woman walking back from her farm through the mining concession

 

This mine’s life is predicted to end within the next few years and environmental remediation programs are already fully underway.  SIKA Mining has maintained a continuous remediation program of unused areas, but this piece will concentrate on remediation of the SIKA Tailing Storage Facility. SIKA Mining’s goals in reclamation are: (1) the desire to remediate the environmental impact caused by mining activity, which can offset loss of forest, by afforestation projects that are at least equivalent to the size and type lost; and (2) to consider end-use purposes regarding socio-economic improvement: re-establishment of native forest cover, creation of varied wildlife habitat (wetlands, vegetation), and finally the creation of tourist and amenity facilities (roads, buildings) through slope stability, as well as water issues.
In 2016, SIKA Mining underwent an information/consultative period with the surrounding communities to discuss the possible uses of land after closure over a series of 9 meetings. Both the Community Consultative Council (consisting of opinion leaders from the various communities) and the EPA led these meetings regarding ultimate end-use of the tailings pond. These meetings were well-advertised open forums and ultimately community members, Paramount Chiefs, Chiefs, Sub-Chiefs, and Queen Mothers attended.  The decisions taken during these meetings found the end use of the tailing pond should be agro-forestry (mainly cocoa farming), firewood, and re-planting of native plants, trees, and shrubs.
Presently, the area is being prepared for planting. Analysis of the tailings has found that the area has a high potential for phytoremediation. In 2015, an extensive study, conducted by external consultants, was performed on the potential for contamination of plant life by the heavy metals in the tailings, and it was found that most of the species did not absorb any levels of trace elements and was fit for human usage.                
Topsoil has been placed on the old tailings. The accumulation of topsoil has a minimum depth of 20cm onto one meter of laterite, to help in the establishment of the crop. This is a mechanized process being handled by SIKA Mining using bulldozers and dump trucks for spreading the topsoil.
North and south view of tailings being reclaimed

 While this is going on, residents from local communities are being employed anywhere from 12-18 months to collect local plants and shrubs for soil control. They will also be the ones employed in the planting process of these plants, as well as in the cocoa tree initiative. The total cost of the operations will be absorbed under SIKA MINING closure plan.

 The economy of the region is based on three elements: agriculture, mining, and timber. Agriculture is by far the greatest employer of the region, involving over 65% of the labour force, with cocoa being the main economic driver of the region. Other cash crops include cocoa and palm oil. Planting in the tailings ponds is based on the guidelines established in the Mine Closure Plan, and state that there should be a minimum density of 1000 stems per hectare.
 Land tenure will be reverted to the former owners for their use. When the mining project began construction in 2000, the land that the mine occupies today belonged to the three Paramountcies and the local chiefs from these communities. The land was loaned to the mining company for duration of operation. This land reverts to these owners once mining activities cease and the land has met the criteria for remediation, ensuring that they will be the ones who benefit of the reclamation. Once the land reverts to the Chiefs, they will lease out the land for exploitation of cocoa farming. The farmers will earn their benefit from their labours.
 SIKA Mining is situated in a nature reserve, and exploitation of timber reserves is a portion of the economy. A proposal for growing trees for timber for export in the reclamation plan was abandoned to better reflect the needs of the communities. Most of the farmers live on subsistence agriculture, and their dependence on the two cocoa harvests a year leaves most of the people hunting for food in the forest. Women have small farms for growing staples and to sell in markets. As firewood is the main fuel used for cooking food and foraging for firewood in the forest reserve is common, it was decided to include a measure to plant fast growing trees for firewood using local labour. The benefits from this will go to the communities closest to the tailings storage facility in question.
Hawk hunting on talings pond

The most outwardly segment of the tailings pond reclamation plan called for re-establishing native plant species. As the mining activity has slowed in some areas, birdlife and aquatic life has already returned. At the tailings ponds each day, over a dozen predatory birds hunt for prey. As for the prey, mice, rats, snakes, smaller vertebrates, reptiles, etc., have re-established themselves, and there are also sightings of antelope returning (frequent) and some monkeys (rarely).  Re-establishing the local flora will further help usher in the return of biodiversity to the area. The collection of the local plants and the planting will also be done by paid labourers from the local communities, thereby simultaneously benefitting both the local environment and the communities.

The final use of this reclaimed land for agro-forestry and firewood appears to be appropriate based on the consultative period in 2016 and by expectations of landowners. Once the property reverts to the original owners, it will then provide economic benefits to those owners and subsequent leases.
 Each aspect of the plan does provide non-financial benefits to the communities, as well. The wood primarily intended for burning will also help preserve the surrounding forest. The planting of the cocoa trees as agro-forestry will be in line with the local communities’ economic reliance on the leaving mining industry. The benefit to planting cocoa is that the knowledge-base on techniques already exists in the local communities, so they won’t have to rely on outsiders to help them establish themselves.
 
 Soil remediation is a benefit to the community, as well as fulfilling SIKA Mining’s legal responsibilities and ensuring tailings will not pose health threats to inhabitants. The reintroduction of native species in the area is by far the most beneficial to the rebuilding of biodiversity. Mining operations have impacted the area for over 10 years, but with the efforts of restorations have already seen the return of predators and prey alike. This Mine Closure Plan does attempt to mitigate not only the environmental impact mining activities have had on the area but restore the land to its rightful owners for economic growth and help revive animal biodiversity.
Spontaneous re-vegetation on south parameter of the SIKA Tailings Pond (nitrogen-rich plants inserted for soil enrichment)
 
 
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This week’s blog and photos kindly provided by Gisèle Fortin. Gisèle is a Canadian who has been living in Ghana since 2012. She runs the NGO Sefwi Health Initiative in the Western Region of Ghana, and is presently studying a Master’s in Community Change and Conservation at Future Generations  University.

For more on Gisele, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gisele-elise-fortin-903b5785/

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