ASM dialogue creates ambition for change in Ghana

A dialogue in Ghana presented a unique opportunity to bring stakeholders together and find solutions to realise the potential of small-scale mining.

James McQuilken's picture
Guest blog by
15 September 2016

James McQuilken is a PhD Researcher at the University of Surrey Business School

Dialogue participants met with local chiefs at Kanyonko, a local community next to the Nsuaem Top mine. Chiefs often negotiate the contribution of mining operations in their lands on behalf of the community (Photo: Friends of the Nation)

IIED's first local artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) dialogue brought together more than 50 representatives from government, civil society, academia, and industry for a four-day workshop. It was a chance to experience the realities of small-scale mining, share perspectives, and work together to address some of the challenges facing small-scale miners.
Organised with local NGO Friends of the Nation (FON) Ghana, the 'action dialogue' involved two days of visits to small-scale mine sites followed by an in-depth discussion workshop, and was designed to improve understanding, challenge perspectives, and facilitate collaboration to affect change in policy and practice. It followed an earlier visioning workshop, held by IIED in London, which outlined a globally shared view for the sector.

A background research report, which was the basis for the dialogue discussions, provides an overview of the ASM sector, identifying the barriers to formalisation, offering some actionable 'ways forward' and a summary of how the workshop unfolded. 

The dialogue began in the departure lounge 

Like excited students at the start of a field trip, the dialogue began before participants boarded the plane. As we queued for check-in for our internal flight to Takoradi, old and new colleagues (re)connected, enthusiastically sharing their concerns, opinions and scepticism, and challenging one another to ensure that the dialogue was not just another ASM 'talk shop'. 

Everyone had been involved in several rounds of consultations during the pre-dialogue research and were selected to represent a range of mining and, crucially, non-mining organisations who are often absent from ASM policy debate.

Stakeholders included over 50 representatives from government, small-scale mining, civil society, industry, large-scale mines, and academia. 

On arriving in Takoradi we continued by bus to Tarkwa, Western Region. Taking participants to the bustling mining town of Tarkwa far from the country's capital made sense. As one of Ghana's most important gold mining areas and home to the University of Mines and Technology, it provided the space for an uninterrupted dialogue as well as the opportunity to connect policymakers and stakeholders directly with ASM communities on the ground. 

Visiting the mine sites

On day one we visited the busy mining community of Kanyoko and one of the nearby mines, Nsuaem Top. With its poor infrastructure, unpaved roads, and largely wooden and tarpaulin tin-topped homes, Kanyoko's impoverished community is reliant on the surrounding small-scale gold mines for its main source of livelihood.

After stepping off the bus, we descended a steep access road that opens out into the Nsuaem Top mine clearing where our field visit began. The site was busy with men sitting atop wood-lined mine shafts supporting their colleagues digging over 200m underground.

Others were operating deafening crushing and milling machines, while women carried 40kg bags of ore, sold food, and washed sand that had been mined using inefficient sluice boxes reported to recover just 30 per cent of the gold (at best). 

We talked with miners to better understand their livelihoods and daily challenges, and also held focus group discussions with other community members.

We heard how crucial ASM is to the lifeblood of the town, providing money for education, to build homes and health clinics, and how the activity supports many hundreds more working in downstream industries. Taxi drivers, market traders, farmers, and food sellers all depend on the mines.

Formalising ASM is a development opportunity 

Following the field visits the research team, myself included, presented the main findings from the background report kicking off the start of the dialogue workshop. 

We highlighted that formalising Ghana's ASM sector is a pressing development opportunity that must be realised, that empowering women and small-scale mining associations is crucial, that many of the issues witnessed are symptoms of the sector's widespread informality, and that dialogue discussions should focus on how to address the key issues of access to land, unlocking geological data, finance, and licensing. 

Workers at the Dakete Gold Mine explain health and safety procedures in a powdering station. The IIED dialogue aimed to engage key stakeholders, including mineworkers, in a conversation about the future of ASM mining in Ghana (Photo: Friends of the Nation)

Through a collaborative process, rotating in groups to discuss the key issues in turn, each of us shared our opinions and offered personal insights and perspectives from our respective organisations.

By the end of the two days a consensus had begun to emerge. Stakeholders were engaged and enthused to create change. It was agreed that the time for ASM is now. 

Developing a roadmap for change 

Having improved understanding, challenged perspectives and fostered collaboration for action, the final thing to do was to agree the key next steps through the development of a 'roadmap for change'. 

The roadmap outlines the need to develop the business case for formalising Ghana's ASM sector, to improve public and stakeholder engagement, communication and collaboration, to mobilise the Geological Survey Department, to further empower mining associations, and, to build on the existing work of government initiatives. 

With this vision in hand, a Learning and Leadership Group (LLG) was established. Comprising eight key ASM stakeholders they are tasked with turning the roadmap into an implementable work plan. 

Through continued support from IIED and FON, the roadmap is being developed further in order to attract investment to support the formalisation and development of the sector as well as improving the lives of those who are engaged in it. 

With the roadmap for change now in place, it will hopefully provide another stepping stone towards affecting change in policy and practice – ensuring that the significant socio-economic development opportunity of formalising Ghana's ASM sector can move ever closer to being fully realised. 

James McQuilken ( is a PhD Researcher at the University of Surrey Business School examining ASM and mineral certification schemes in sub-Saharan Africa.

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