The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Commodity Monitor Ltd, Stephen Yeboah, has made a strong case that the country’s galamsey ordeal will best be tackled if appropriate technologies are employed in the small-scale mining sector to ensure responsible and sustainable mining.
He argued that given the contribution of the mining sector to the country’s economic development, instead of banning the activities, appropriate technologies must be used and the traditional approach changed to eliminate the negative impact on the environment.
The mining sector contributes significantly to the merchandise export earnings of the country as well as domestic revenues. The sector contributed a total of US$ 6.8 billion in export earnings in 2020 and US$ 5.1 billion in 2021.
The artisanal and small-scale mining sub-sector contributes about 40 percent of the total gold production and generates both direct and indirect employment, with more than one million people directly engaged in the sub-sector and an additional four million people indirectly dependent on it for their livelihoods.
Mr. Yeboah holds that artisanal and small-scale mining is not wrong, however, the irresponsible manner in which some miners carry out their activities including the use of mercury, directing tailings into river bodies and mounting machinery, such as Changfas, into river bodies needed to be checked, to build a responsible and sustainable sector.
“The small mining sector is a huge one with about one million people involved. If you go to some communities, more than 90 percent of the young people are into mining, so imagine stopping it. It was banned initially but it still persists so the sustainable way of dealing with it is to change the way they work and not to put a blanket ban on the activities,” he said.
“More worrying is the unregulated, high use and exposure of mercury in gold recovery by artisanal and small scale miners. Mercury use in this sector globally is estimated to be over 2000 tonnes each year with virtually all of the chemicals released finding their way into the atmosphere, water bodies, and land.
“This puts miners and communities at risk of impacts from permanent brain damage to seizures, vision and hearing loss, and delayed childhood development,” he added.
To mitigate this and to bring an end, his outfit, Commodity Monitor Limited, a Ghanaian-owned trading, logistics and research company, has rolled out sustainable mineral processing technologies for small- and large-scale miners.
The cleaner gold mining and extraction technology will eliminate mercury and develop capacity and regulatory mechanisms that will enable the sector to minimize its negative environmental impact while boosting operations.
The mining plants are supplied as fully comprehensive modular solutions from ore through gold dore, or bagged mineral concentrates as appropriate without using toxic mercury. The machines improve the operations of miners in terms of high productivity and ensure superior gold recovery.
“The goal of the rollout of the mercury-free mineral processing technology is to assist artisanal and small scale miners with efficient mining plants and equipment that achieve three basic goals, that is, high tonnes per hour processing, no mercury use and high gold recovery,” he said.
The technology ensures high recovery. The current processing method allows miners to recover just about 35 percent of their gold. This new mercury-free technology recovers more than 90 percent gravity-recoverable gold.
For the many decades of operations of small scale miners, there has been unfettered dependence on mercury as the main source of gold recovery in Ghana. The consequence is that abandoned mercury mine wastes usually contain high mercury concentrations due to inefficiency.
“Our mercury-free technology utilises ‘soil washing’ as a remediation technique – which means mercury contents are extracted from the mine wastes and tailings to prevent further washdown into rivers and water sources.
“Our technology contributes to the fight against galamsey. The good news is that the Government of Ghana through the Minerals Commission has made our technology the main mineral processing technology for all Community Mining Areas. The 100 plants purchased were commissioned by the President of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in June 2022. This is a significant and critical step taken by the Government,” he stated.
Mr. Yeboah is confident the fight against galamsey can be won by making this technology available to all artisanal and small-scale miners, saying a mercury-free way of mining is the right path to take. It will accelerate the implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which Ghana is a signatory. In 2017, Ghana ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury to reduce and eliminate mercury use in the minerals sector.
“It is the surest way of leveraging transformation in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector,” he said.
Currently, he said, over 20 of the mercury-free mining machines had been deployed in mining communities such as Wa, Bongo, and Tarkwa, among other mining areas across the country.