Gold has been mined in Ghana for over 1,000 years, and is Africa’s second-largest gold producer after South Africa. The estimated value of all the gold in Ghana’s Ashanti Belt is around $200 million, with each 8 acre area producing $1.5 million in gold. Along with cocoa, gold is one of the country’s main source of revenue.
Between 5-10% of Ghana’s work force are employed in gold mining, receiving around 8% of the profit. Whilst gold mining might have become a booming industry bringing in billions of dollars every year, the wealth has failed to trickle down to many of the country’s rural poor who live on the land where the gold is mined from.
A galamsey is a local artisanal gold miner in Ghana and the number of galamseys is believed to be between 20,000 to 50,000. They mine for gold independently, digging small workings by hand with the most basic of tools. They find gold in dust form or process oxide or sulphide gold ore using liquid mercury, a very dangerous proceedure. Unfortunately, for every kg of gold produced a kg of mercury enters the environment and many of these workers end up suffering from mercury poisoning. Once the rivers and land is polluted the inhabitants of the region end up suffering from sickness and disease due to contaminated drinking water supplies.
By passing legislation to obtain more revenue from the important gold mining industry, the government of Ghana now has an environmental problem due to the extraction methods used. If left unchecked it will infect the important cocoa and coffee plantations and cause untold economic and environmental damage for the country. However, with artisanal mining bringing in $646 million it is highly unlikely this industry will slow down as Ghana is the 7th largest producer of gold in the world.