The Impacts of Small-Scale Gold Mining on Food Security in Ghana

Obodai, Jacob (2022). The Impacts of Small-Scale Gold Mining on Food Security in Ghana. PhD thesis The Open University.



Small-scale gold mining has expanded in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world including Peru and the Philippines, over the last two decades. Numerous factors, including rising gold prices, agricultural poverty, and administrative difficulties, have been cited as explanations for the rapid growth. The rapid growth of small-scale gold mining has a plethora of implications for agriculture, particularly smallholder farming. This is because the primary resource (land) on which mining, and agriculture are based is scarce, and mineral deposits frequently coincide with land suitable for agriculture. Additionally, mining and agriculture both consume large amounts of water and are labour intensive. Thus, a direct link between the expansion of small-scale gold mining and its impact on smallholder agriculture has been established in various countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, though opinions vary on whether the relationship is complementary or competitive. Additionally, the impacts of these connections on food security have received relatively little attention, and they are heavily underrepresented in the literatures on small-scale mining and food security. This thesis closes this knowledge gap by shedding light on the impact of small-scale gold mining on food security and contributing to the debate over the relationship between small-scale gold mining and smallholder farming. I argue, using a mixed method case study in Ghana, that mining has a negative impact on food security and that women and children bear a disproportionate share of the burden. Additionally, I demonstrated how competitive and conflict-ridden the relationship between small-scale mining and smallholder farming is.

This study was guided by a novel synthesis of the capability approach and a political ecology perspective. I begin by examining how structural and economic reforms have influenced mining and agricultural activities in Ghana over time, as well as the consequences of these reforms, with a particular emphasis on the often-overlooked ecological footprints. Second, I quantify and predict the pattern of land use and land cover change that would occur under various scenarios, as well as the factors that would cause these changes. Thirdly, I examine the factors affecting miners and smallholder farmers' access to critical resources (land, water, and labour), as well as the key actors in the mining and smallholder farming subsectors, as well as their power hierarchy and relationship. Finally, I examine the relationships between mining and smallholder farming and the state of individual food security (availability, access, utilisation, and stability).

The key findings are as follows: first, that the promotion of export-oriented commodities such as gold and cash crops such as cocoa and oil palm at the expense of peasant farmers' food crops is associated with severe ecological impacts that remain shielded in the absence of required environmental legislation until they exacerbate. There are also flashpoints of conflict between mining and smallholder farming, which has been aggravated by recent reforms and lays the groundwork for future conflicts. Second, four distinct periods of land use and land cover dynamics for mining footprints were identified using a combination of social science and geospatial methods: periods of none to limited increase, gradual to accelerated increase, sharp increase, and gradual decrease in mining footprints. These land use and land cover dynamics were found to be associated with three major ecological impacts of mining: land degradation, deforestation, and water pollution. Over a 34-year period, a total of 27,333 ha (36% of forest cover) was lost, along with severe land degradation and water pollution. If mining activities continue at their current pace, the study predicts increased ecological impacts. Third, the previously coexisting mining and smallholder farming subsectors are now fiercely competing for access to critical resources (land, labour, and water), a situation shaped by unequal power relations between the two subsectors' key actors. Finally, small-scale gold mining significantly contributes to food insecurity and, as a result, to the poor health and well-being of many people, particularly women and children. Half of the study participants experienced moderate food insecurity, while 13% experienced severe food insecurity. Additionally, 79% of women of reproductive age (15 to 49) were unable to meet the Minimum Dietary Diversity (MDD) requirements, a measure of micronutrient adequacy and, thus, food quality. Furthermore, local challenges with food availability, as well as associated challenges with food access and utilisation, erode food stability over time, forcing more people to adopt alternative coping strategies.

The findings of this study provide novel empirical evidence on the impacts of small-scale gold mining on food security and highlight the importance of integrating mixed and geospatial methods. Additionally, the findings demonstrate the value of combining political ecology and capability approaches in natural resource governance and food security research.

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