The decision by the government of Ghana to allow mining in forest reserves has been described as awful. It is beginning to have serious, negative impacts on the climate, and on the local communities in and around forest zones. It is also having aneffect on food production, and contributing to food insecurity in and around the country.

So far, companies like Goldfields Ghana Limited Tarkwa; Newmont Akyem mines Perseus mining company at Wasa Akropong and AngloGold Ashanti are seriously engaged in mining in forest reserves with the knowledge of the government of Ghana. These multinational companies have been granted license to operate in the forest enclaves that were preserved for the future.

These forest sites were reserved to also help stock, preserve and increase the number of wild animals, water bodies and tree species that have existed for centuries. However, these reserves are today threatened by the activities of these companies that are mainly multinationals.

The Technical Director in charge of mining at the Ministry of Lands, and Natural Resources, Simon Atapira, revealed in an exclusive interview that there is no clear cut policy or Legal Instrument(L I) backing mining in forest reserves.

Given the background to what led to forest mining, he said, in 1992 about 30 mining companies applied for license to mine in the forest and were granted. Subsequently, government realised the dangers to mining in forest reserves and attempted to revoke all the licenses since they were granted without legal backing or support. However, the government was informed that most of the companies had already invested heavily in their concessions and revoking their licenses would precipitate legal tussles and judgment debt payments.

He added that based on this, the government decided to release only 2% of the total forest reserves for mining with plans for reforestation during mining and reclamation after mining. “As a result, the 30 licensed companies were trimmed to 17 and a committee was thus set up to determine the level of investment and the quantity of gold in the licensed areas which formed the bases for the release of the 2% forest reserve” he said. “This was just a verbal directive. Subsequently, a memo was sent to cabinet for approval on the decision and that was all”, he noted.

“So there is no clear cut law or legal instrument that supports mining in forest reserves. This is what has metamorphosed into what we are experiencing now”, he indicated.

“Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency has a committee that monitors the operations of these companies mining in forest reserves. They are made to pay a sum of US$2Million into a special account to be used to reclaim the land should they refuse to do the reclamation after completing their operations. This money is also invested by government and the interest is realized for other obligations”, he said

He admitted that these mining companies sometimes experience spillovers of mining materials and toxic chemicals into nearby streams, which impact both communities and the atmosphere. When this happens, they are penalized and also fined. They are also made to pay compensation to the affected people and communities.

Interestingly, a visit to the mine site of Goldfields Ghana limited at Tarkwa reveals the severe damage that mining has done to Ghana’s rain forest in the western region. Despite the effort by the mining firm to do what it called responsible mining in the forest zone, the company is still facing a huge challenge of how to manage its mining wastes. Waste rocks that have already been processed with cyanide and mercury are heaped at a particular area to form a mountain and whenever it rains, the little particles and elements of these cyanide are washed by the rain water out of the rocks into the nearby rivers and streams flowing in the forest. These rivers flow through nearby communities where they are used by inhabitants for cooking and other household activities.

Mr. Michiel Van der Merwe, General Manager of the Tarkwa Gold Mine of Goldfields Ghana Limited has described mine wastes as of the “difficult elements to manage or deal with” in their concessions. He says the company generates about 8 million tons of mining waste (that is waste rocks) every year and these are heaped up to form mountains since they are of no use. He indicated that though some construction companies have expressed interest in purchasing and processing the rocks for other activities in the construction sector these companies are yet to acquire the needed equipment’s to process the wastes which are full of chemicals like mercury and cyanide.” So until this is done, the alternative will be to pile them up “, he noted.

A tour of the mining concession at Tarkwa reveals that most people living in the communities surrounding the mine concession have developed several health complications, including skin diseases from their reliance on polluted rivers and streams that float through the forest reserves. The inhabitants drink from these rivers and streams and also use them for cooking, washing and other household chores.

Weak health conditions of farmers coupled with the warm climatic conditions experienced in the area as a result of the depletion of the forest reserve serving as the natural cover against the sun’s rays has drastically reduced the rainfall rate in these communities, and has severely affected food production.

In the case of Newmont Akyem Mines, almost half of the Ajenua Bepo forest reserve has been depleted by the mining company. This has affected the natural flow of most of the rivers, streams and springs in the forest. Most of them have been severely polluted. The company is currently working on a reforestation project to restore the forest to its natural form. This is likely to take more than a century if possible.

The Newmont Akyem Mine is undertaking surface mining operations in the Ajenua Bepo Forest Reserve while AngloGold Ashanti has a lease to mine in Kubi Forest. “There are plans to permit surface mining in Tano Suraw Forest Reserve; Obonsam Bepo Forest Reserve; Atiwa Range Forest Reserve; Fure; Tano and Offin Forest Reserves, which are part of Ghana’s 30 Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas,” WACAM alleged.

Mrs Hanna Owusu Koranteng, head of WACAM reveals that the Government has granted mining leases to multinational mining companies to undertake open cast mining in forest reserves. According to her the Newmont Akyem Mine, for instance, has been approved to undertake surface mining operations in the Ajenua Bepo Forest Reserve while AngloGold Ashanti has a lease to mine in Kubi Forest.

Besides, permission has been granted for surface mining in Tano Suraw Forest Reserve; Obonsam Bepo Forest Reserve; Atiwa Range Forest Reserve; Fure; Tano and Offing Forest Reserves, which are part of Ghana’s 30 Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas”.

She notes that that the Minerals and Mining Act, does not have important provisions such as the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which would empower host communities to reject or accept a mining project based on the knowledge of the benefits and negative effects of mining on their livelihoods and pollution of the environment among other things.”

Mrs Owusu Koranteng has thus requested government to revoke the mining rights granted to companies whose concessions are in forest reserves. She said mining in forest reserves contravenes certain provisions in the National Land Policy.

Opaning Kwabena Manu, Chief cocoa farmer at Wassa Akropong near Ayamfuri where pursues mining operates has described the situation as appalling, According to him the rainfall pattern has changed. It has drastically reduced. “Last year , that Is 2016 we experienced only eight heavy rainfalls which is far below the annual rainfall pattern of two months continuous rainfall in the forest region, he said

“Last year I harvested only 20 bags of cocoa against my annual average production rate of 120 bags of cocoa on a 10 acre land. Personally I am against mining in forest reserves and in my opinion that is what is causing the cocoa production rate to fall in the country,” he added.

The Omanhene of Sankubaase, a mining town within the Atiwa Forest in an interview with the reporter, described mining in forest reserves as the most dangerous thing ever to happen in the 21st century likening it to Illegal mining which is popularly called Galamsey. He called on government to as a matter of urgency order all these companies in the reserves to cease operation. He said there is a need for immediate cessation of mining to help save and protect our forest reserves.

He said mining in forest reserves is adversely affecting water bodies, vegetation, wild animals, human health and safety and ought to be stopped immediately since there is no legal instrument backing it.

The law enforcement agencies in mining have failed to function and this gross negligence has contributed to the current state of environmental degradation. Legally, the section of the mining regulation which charges mine owners to be responsible for the operation (including closure) seems to have been deleted!

The forest reserves are sources of medical treatment for about 40% of the population who still depend on traditional medicine as their only source of health care. Around the same percentage of Ghanaians depend on streams for their domestic water requirements – for drinking and cooking. Such streams either start as aquifers from rocks in the forest reserves, or are protected by the shade of the forest as they meander towards the sea. They also serve as the natural habitat of thousands of endangered species, which would otherwise have been extinct. Due to erosion, land fertility is decreased, leading to reduced agricultural production. Deforestation results in high poverty and mortality rates, and increased school dropout rate.

Our research indicates that the current Minerals and Mining Act, Act 703, 2006, provided adequate protection for the multinational mining companies but not the surface rights of affected mining communities.

Kwabena Adu Koranteng
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