Society and the Environment: Gold from Ghana

Geologists and miners inspect core samples at an underground gold mine in Obuasi, Ghana.The world market price of gold rose from $260 to $1,730 per ounce between 2001 and 2012. Most people don’t think about it, but the environmental and social consequences of this price increase have been substantial. This is especially true in countries where many people live in poverty. The situation in Ghana illustrates the complex interplay of societal and environmental processes that can lead to local crises or, alternatively, show cause for …hope.

Ghana, which is located on the west coast of Africa, has an unusual geological history in which gold deposits were concentrated in several bands that cover about one-sixth of the country. Historical records show that gold began to be exported from Ghana starting in the 16th century, and now Ghana is Africa’s second largest producer of gold. Much of the gold is in deposits suitable for large-scale mining operations, but a substantial amount is located in river deposits that can be mined in small operations with primitive… equipment.

The government of Ghana is working diligently to overcome the economic challenges remaining from a history of colonial exploitation. Until recently, export earnings depended on just a few commodities. While Ghana’s primary product for world trade used to be cocoa, gold is now the country’s most important export. The literacy rate was 67% in 2009 (up from 58% in 2000), and about 28% of the population lives below the poverty level. In order to improve economic opportunity (and to recover some income), the Ghanaian government passed laws to regulate small-scale gold mining.

Underground mines in Ghana provide about 90% of exported gold. At least some of these large operations use environmentally friendly processes, such as bacterial oxidation instead of separating gold from other material with toxic mercury. Small-scale gold mining produces 10% of Ghana’s gold. This segment of the industry is performed by people who lack the resources to apply modern gold-mining methods. In small-scale mining, gold is separated from alluvial sediments with environmentally harmful processes.

Using mercury is the most harmful process by which gold can be extracted from sediments. Mercury that enters the environment through water or air is toxic to humans and ecological systems. Mercury-containing fumes are carried far from extraction sites, and mercury contaminates agricultural areas and drinking water. In addition, small-scale gold extraction can redirect rivers, increase erosion, and cause water pollution from acid-bearing rocks exposed by the mining. Contaminated and stagnant water increase diseases. These problems create major challenges to economic advancement for impoverished people.

While providing much-needed economic benefits for Ghana and many of its people, small-scale gold mining may be harming the long-term future of agriculture, including economically valuable cocoa and coffee plantations. Poisoning people and damaging subsistence agriculture add to the problems. The government is trying to address these issues, but people in poverty appear to have few options.

Comments

  1. I thought it was interesting about how fast the price for gold went up in eleven years

  2. I think that ghana needs to think more about the country than the export of the gold.Because it is harmful to the agriculture and people.

  3. I feel that if the government helps the people in poverty they could also help the agricultural problems instead of having people with no money mine golds and other minerals to become shipped out of the country. Also i feel that there should be other ways to remove gold from sediments instead of using mercury which could kill all the workers not suitable for the toxic fumes from the mercury.

  4. I like this article.

  5. I think that prices went to high in a little time period. In 11 years the price went by $1470.

  6. Garrett says:

    I believe that the government needs to put more restrictions on who mines coal and how gold can be extracted. Harming the environment may help get the people out of poverty but they need to see how the will affect them in the future.

  7. makalynn says:

    gold began to be exported a longggg time ago (16th century)

  8. bellaaaaaaaa says:

    I think its crazy that they are thinking of using mercury and that being the most harmful process. When mercury enters the environment through water or through air is toxic to humans and the ecological systems.

  9. Brandon says:

    Ghana needs better regulations

  10. I understand how we are limited to the amount of minerals we have on earth, and how the prices have gone up. In the spam of 11 years the prices went up by about $1,500 When mining it can be very dangerous because if the structure in the cave breaks then we will lose many lives and it can kill many people with it being toxic if it hits the water, air, or soil.

  11. Why do Ghana mine if it can harm the environment and humans.

  12. I think that it’s good that Ghana finally has a good economy going, but I don’t like the idea of using hazardous materials to get the product. Mercury is harmful to the miners and to their families, their neighbors. They need to experiment and find out new, healthier ways to mine the gold.

  13. There are pros and cons with this subject, it hurts the earth with some of the gold mining, but as seen in the article it increased their literacy percentage.

  14. Joseph F. says:

    It is my opinion, Ghana should invest more in the people rather than there own band accounts. They have the means to enrich the country as a hole. They should put money in to crops rather then poising them self’s.

  15. jonathon enriquez says:

    to much time mining and not a enough education and helping their country.

  16. Luke Sanchez says:

    I think its horrible that people use such harsh chemicals to get gold, it ruins the environment and they need that environment to grow cocoa and other crops.

  17. I think the government and other scientists need to find another resource to use similar to minerals, but to not stop using minerals, just to heavily reduce the amount used. This will affect the future if we keep using large amounts of minerals. The government needs to stop being so money hungry and actually care about the planet. solar power could be a good use because it could power just about anything instead of using so much minerals.

  18. William says:

    If more wealthy countries were to buy this gold from Ghana, then Ghana would be better off economically and it could help them build up their country so that it may have other uses. As long as they mine their gold with the environmentally safe process, then they are doing nothing but helping their country by mining its gold.

  19. Lynniece says:

    The effects of mining gold are harmful. There should be other ways to mine it without hurting the agriculture around it. Even though Ghana is impoverished, they should use the money from exporting gold to help their people. Mining is making diseases in water increase, and those effects aren’t helping the country.

  20. I believe that almost anywhere has this type of problem, be it with gold or other minerals. Every country makes a profit off of hurting the environment, and there isn’t much we can do at the moment. We are a society of harm, only getting pleasure from harming others, be it directly or indirectly through pollution.

  21. I think that some of the gold mining operations on a larger scale should use the profits to benefit the areas where poverty strikes. The fact that 90% of gold comes from underground mines and most gold comes from smaller operations shows how people in Ghana can invest in the gold there.

  22. honestly i didnt read this so i dont know nothin

  23. Celine Carter says:

    First and foremost, I would like to say that the poverty level in Ghana is very surprising to me. I also think that this a good opportunity for Ghana to bring up its economy. At the same time, I think this is also a bad idea because the Mercury they would use would contaminate areas and kill off people and organisms. Instead of Ghana extracting gold for economy, they should do agriculture to bring up the economy instead. The top 5 exports for Ghana include Gold (44%), Crude Oil (18%),
    Cocoa beans (15%), Cocoa paste (2.3%), and Manganese Ore (1.3%). Crude oil extractions and gold mining remove the biodiversity of an area, and this could create a potential threat to the environment. To conclude, Ghana should resume to exporting agriculture again. – Celine Carter

  24. I think that mining is not necessary and also very harmful to the environment. There really is no reason for mining because we already have a ton of minerals. We also don’t really use the minerals other than for jewelry. We can be using all of those minerals for useful things instead of using them for random non useful things.

  25. Brianna Saldivar says:

    I think that the miners shouldn’t work in contaminated water and stagnant water because it can increase diseases and that’s not really a good for the workers. Ghana’s population is not that big maybe the miners should be a little more careful. The student did a good job because the student wrote about the miming conditions and Mercury. Ghana’s environment is bad and if the gold is no longer there then they will have nothing to export . Its bad working conditions because the miners work so hard for their families that they sacrifice their own health to support their families.

  26. Jeffery says:

    The price of gold will keep going up because the more we mine it the less there is and the harder it will be to find. Some country’s depend on the gold for money.

  27. Zephaniah Vargas-Cruz says:

    The article gives good information on the mining situation in Ghana and how they are the largest producer of gold. If helps to see that the information given all relates to the process in which they mine the gold in Ghana.

  28. i think that people should stoop using mercury to mine gold and also think that it shouldn’t be worth as much as it is.

  29. jamison parker says:

    the government of Ghana is doing the right thing, trying to help their environment after exporting a lot of gold from their country. they can do more to help the people in poverty as the economy is not doing well

  30. That since gold is the #1 export in Ghana. Since that is happening the environmental problems increase. The processes are bad and poverty increases due to that.

  31. Mercedes Garcia says:

    Ghana has many problems such as they have very few available mining and they are the second largest country with gold but every time they produce gold people go into poverty. I feel as though yes they are successful with gold but with there success comes many people in poverty.

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