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International Journal of Geosciences, 2010, 1, 113-120
doi:10.4236/ijg.2010.13015 Published Online November 2010 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ijg)
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
The Need to Regularise Activities of Illegal Small-Scale
Mining in Ghana: A Focus on the Tarkwa-Dunkwa
Jerry S. Kuma, Jerome A. Yendaw
University of Mines an d Technology, Dep a r t ment of Geological Engineering , Tarkwa, Ghana
Received September 3, 2010; revised Septem b er 30, 2010; accepted October 10, 2010
Southwest Ghana is a major gold producing region. The current high gold price has attracted hundreds of
unemployed youth to undertake small-scale mining (SSM). Most of these miners operate illegally even
though the SSM law (PNDCL) 218 of 1989 and Act 703 of 2006 define the procedures required for their op-
eration. Some miners have brought their activities to a segment of the western highway that links southwest
to central Ghana with serious environmental consequences envisaged. This paper argues that the laws that
regulate SSM do not consider the fundamental set-up and concerns of the small-scale miner, hence its inabil-
ity to be effective. It is therefore proposed that the present requirement that a minimum of 21 hectares is
necessary before land can be registered needs re-examination. Secondly, government needs to explore par-
cels of land and designate the workable areas to miners under a well structured scheme that will also educate
these miners about safe and healthy mining methods.
Keywords: Law, Small-Scale Mining, Regularise, Ghana
Ghana aboun ds in a number of minerals especially in the
south-west of the country and the most developed and
sought after mineral is gold. Gold mining has been asso-
ciated with Ghana since time immemorial but documen-
tation of this activity was captured by the Portuguese
around the 1470’s . Traditional Small-Scale Mining
(SSM) undertaken within weathered formations has
therefore been going on well before this time. Recovery
of gold from these formations involved the simple tech-
nology of digging, washing and recovery of the metal.
Brisk trading in gold since the Portuguese set foot on
Ghana earned it the name “Gold Coast” until 1957. It
was reported that between 1493 and 1850, Africa pro-
duced about 22 million fine ounces of gold out of which
Ghana contributed approximately 60 % of the total .
Mechanised gold mining was first reported by the
Frenchman Pierre Bonnat in 1874 in the Tarkwa ar ea and
1890 in the Obuasi area . However, SSM continued to
be practiced and is sometimes operated in “competition”
with and within the conc essions of th e large-scale min in g
companies bringing about conflicts between the two p ar-
ties. The Government of Ghana, realising the importance
of SSM to the economy captured how they should oper-
ate in Minerals and Mining Law Act 703 . Hitherto,
the Minerals and Mining Law (PNDCL 153)  and
Small-Scale Gold Mining Law (PNDCL 218)  were
used to regulate and legalise this industry. Part of Act
703 defines the exact set-up and operational areas of the
SSM but not all the operations of small-scale miners
have come under the Laws. This is because the needs,
concerns and activities of the group of illegal miners
called “galamsey operators” who necessitated the Small-
Scale Mining Laws to be enacted somehow did not ap-
pear to be sufficiently captured. These illegal groups are
uncontrolled and they move from one area to another
digging and washing for gold and diamonds with sig-
nificant impacts particularly on the land and water envi-
ronments. Different estimates of the number of people
involved in SSM in Ghana have been mentioned and
range between 100,000 and 500,000. It has also been
estimated that SSM produce about 15% or 425,000
ounces of the countr y’s gold [5 ]. I t has been reported th at
*The Ghana Chamber of Mines funded this work. The authors are grate-
114 J. S. KUMA ET AL.
about 15,000 hectares of land has potentially been af-
fected by SSM activities in the country but this figure is
expected to have significantly increased now .
In recent times some of these illegal miners have
“discovered” gold along the 100 km Tarkwa-Dunkwa
highway (hereafter called “the highway”) and have
brought their activities very close to the road with grave
consequences envisaged. This paper is an attempt to map
and catalogue the operations of these people in order to
highlight the problems their activities are causing the
country and discuss the consequences of a “no action”
option if this is allowed to continue. Suggestions are
made to bring them under regulation and therefore pre-
vent degradation of the environment.
The area under study is located within the forest dis-
sected plateau; one of five relief zones delineated in
Ghana that is predominantly underlain by the Birimian
and Tarkwaian Supergroups . Relief in the area is
typically between 240-300 m above sea level. The high-
way lies almost exclusively within the Ankobra River
Basin with its numerous tributaries. A double maximum
rainfall regime affects the study area due to the seasonal
movement of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone
(ITCZ). The main rainy season is between late April and
early July with a break in August while the minor rainy
season falls in September and October. In general, rain-
fall decreases from Tarkwa to Dunkwa with mean annual
values being 1,900 mm and 1,500 mm respectively. Mean
annual temperatures increase from 26.0℃ in Tarkwa to
26.6℃ in Dunkwa while mean annual relative humidity
decreases from 95% in Tarkwa to 93% in Dunkwa.
The vegetation within which the highway has been
built belongs to the wet semi-deciduous forest zone that
previously contained the country’s timber species. Log-
ging has reduced the forest cover in many areas to a
secondary nature. Increased cocoa and food crop farming
has exacerbated the reduction. The soils grade from ox-
ysols in the Tarkwa area to forest ochrosols in the
Dunkwa area .
3. Regional Geology
Rocks of southwest Ghana belong to the Birimian and
Tarkwaian Supergroups of early Proterozoic age that
have been intruded by granitoids. The Birimian is char-
acterised by a series of evenly spaced, weakly metamor-
phosed, tightly folded northeast trending volcanic belts
separated by ‘basins’ of intervening metasedimentary/
volcaniclastic rocks (Figure 1). The metavolcanic belts
are typically 15-40 km wide, between 60-90 km apart
and comprise lavas of predominantly tholeiitic composi-
tion, with some interflow sediments . Typical litholo-
gies of the basins consist of tuffaceous phyllite, schist
and meta greywacke. Although traditionally, the belt
rocks were believed to overlie the basin rocks, Leube et
al.  interpreted them as a coeval sequence of lateral
Extensive isoclinal folding evident in the sedimentary
basins have also been interpreted to indicate major post-
Birimian crustal shortening. Tarkwaian sediments were
deposited in synclinal structures within the metavolcanic
belts and comprise low-grad e meta conglomerates, quart-
zites and phyllites. The presence of igneous and sedi-
mentary clasts derived from the Birimian and its associ-
ated granitoids have led Leube et al.  and Junner  to
conclude that the Tarkwaian is a detritus of Birimian
rocks that were uplifted and eroded following the Ebur-
nean tectono-thermal event.
Although a number of structural models have been
evoked to describe the deformation phases of the Birimian
rocks, Eisenlohr and Hirdes  employed local struc-
tural and isotopic data fro m the Ashanti belt to prop ose a
single, progressive deformational event involving a series
of deep-seated, partly-blind thrusts, possibly in a fore-
land basin setting. Barritt and Kuma  used existing
Figure 1. Simplified geological map of south west Ghana
showing the belts and basins (modified from . Insert
shows highways in Ghana (Note particularly the Tarkwa –
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
J. S. KUMA ET AL.
gravity data constrained by mapped geology over the
Ashanti belt to construct cross-sectional models which
are consistent with the concept of a single continuous
3.1. Geology of the Ashanti Belt
The Tarkwa-Dunkwa area falls within the most impor-
tant gold belt in Ghana: the Ashanti belt. All major his-
toric and currently, most producing mines are located
within the belt or along its highly tectonised northwest
margin. Structures in the Tarkwaian rocks located in the
centre of the Ashanti belt consist of a series of open,
northeast plunging antiforms and synforms. Towards the
western margin of the belt these folds pass into a zone of
overturned strata with reverse faulting where the Tark-
waian is locally overthrust by Birimian rocks. Consider-
ing the gravity models generated, Barritt and Kuma 
suggest that structures in the northwest margin are com-
plex and possibly involve multiple thrust slices which
control the mesothermal gold deposits in the Ashanti
Gold in the Ashanti belt is found in both the Birimian
and Tarkwaian rocks as reef, vein or lode type deposits
and as auriferous quartz-pebble conglomerates respec-
tively . Specifically, the veins are located near or at
the contact between the metavolcanics and metasedi-
ments, or as reefs of sheared and shattered smoky grey
quartz within the tuffaceous phyllites in the Birimian.
Weathering profiles within the Birimian and Tarkwaian
rocks average 100 m and 20 m respectively and alluvial
deposits derived from the two auriferous rock units are
also widespread within the belt .
4. Economic Activities along the Highway
4.1. Importance of the Highway
This single lane road forms part of the western highway
that links the Western Region to the northern part of
Ghana (Figure 1, inset). Traditionally, the highway is
used to transp ort people and good s: the goods are mainly
timber, cocoa, shear nut, food stuffs etc., from the hin-
terland to the port in Sekondi and other coastal towns.
With the demise of the railway system in Ghana, the sig-
nificance of the highway as the main route for transport-
ing people and goods such as bauxite to and fro has be-
come even more important. Heavy duty trucks; some
weighing more than 60 tonnes regularly transport the
goods on the highway.
The civil conflict in Cote d’Ivoire has bestowed fur-
ther importance on the highway as people and all manner
of goods (from fuel to cattle), which were previously
conveyed to and from Cote d’Ivoire to Burkina Faso and
Mali through Bouake (in Cote d’Ivoire) are now diverted
to pass through this highway to th eir destinations.
4.2. Agricultural Activities
Farming and trading in food crops and other petty stuff
are the main occupations of communities living around
the highway. Cocoa is the main cash crop cultivated
while the main food crops are plantain, coco yam, cas-
sava and maize. The food crops are cultivated according
to the seasons: that is during the rainy seasons. During
the dry seasons between November and April, some of
the people harvest their cocoa while others turn to allu-
vial mining of gold because there is little to do by way of
farming. This combination of farming and mining has
been in practice for several centuries. Temeng and Abew
 corroborates this in a recent study by stating that the
major economic activities of men before large-scale
mining commenced near communities in Tarkwa, Bo-
gosu, Prestea and Ayanfuri are farming and SSM.
4.3. Illegal Mining Activities
In the past, mining was undertaken at low levels and
therefore, not overly obtrusive. However, since the eco-
nomic reform programme was launched in the mid
1980’s, and massive investment in the minerals sector
was undertaken, a very large part of southwest Ghana
has been explored for minerals, especially gold. This has
led to an awakening of rural communities to the fact that
their land is potentially highly mineralised. This aware-
ness, coupled with the gold boom of the nineties and the
current global high gold price has influenced a number of
people, especially the youth, to turn away from seasonal
food crop farming and focus solely on mining gold.
Secondly, the clo sure of the u ndergr ound min e in Prestea,
has stressed the town and its surrounding communities.
These factors, coupled with the already large youth un-
employment in the country have influenced some of the
youth to resort to illegal gold mining. Since anyone able
to dig and wash can start mining, education is not a pre-
requisite for the work.
The intensity with which illegal mining is undertaken
needs special attention. This is because large tracts of
land, including forest reserves and other fertile farmlands
have been and continue to be degraded creating water
logged areas with pits serving as death traps. Addition-
ally, streams and rivers are silted and contaminated with
various chemicals. A very worrying recent development
is that these illegal small scale miners have brought their
activities to the corridor of the Tarkwa– Dun kwa highway
with severe consequences envisaged. Eighteen workings
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
116 J. S. KUMA ET AL.
have been recorded along the 100 km stretch of the
highway up to 30 m on either side of it (Figure 2). Some
of these workings have already undermined the integrity
of the highway and therefore affected the safety of road
5. Adverse Effects of Illegal Activities along
While any mining activity at a distance of 30 m or nearer
the highway is a serious concern, there are some which
defy reason and need special mention. The following
reveal this concern:
1) About 2 km from Bawdie (Figure 2), towards
Dunkwa is a hard rock shallow underground working
that is tracing the more or less perp endicu lar trending ore
from 100’s of meters away to the road. The surface ex-
pression of the ore’s trend is acknowledged by huts un-
der which access is made underground.
Figure 2. The Tarkwa–Dunkwa highway showing the loca-
tion of mining activities within 30 m of the road.
The huts cover and protect the shallow shafts. It is
very likely that the underground working has traversed
the road to the opposite sid e. It is reported that more than
1000 people work in this place (Figure 3). The workings
have been abandoned due to flooding which will weaken
the surrounding rocks resulting in possible cave-in; fa-
cilitated by vibrations induced by the heavy vehicular
traffic and finally undermine the structural integrity of
2) A squatter camp with a population of more than 200
people has been built along the shoulder of the road at
about 300 m north of Nanankaw (Figure 4). Apart from
inhibiting drainag e, the location of the camp is dangerous
considering the busy nature of the highway. An accident
along this section of the road can be very fatal.
Some sections of the road cutting at Nsoupon Junction
in the Dadieso area have been mined to depths of more
than 20 m. Because of the danger this excavation poses
to pedestrians in particular, the local people have fenced
Figure 3. Shallow underground workings at right angles to
road and likely to have traversed it.
Figure 4. Squatter camp built by miners on the shoulder of
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
J. S. KUMA ET AL.
the most dangerous parts with bamboo to prevent people
falling into the pit (Figure 5).
3) The walls of this excavation are near vertical and
there is a high probability th at the h ighway co uld collap se
with the least disturbance, particularly during heavy
downpour. The Japa-Dadieso area has the largest con-
centration of illegal mine workings along the highway
and their activities stretch almost continuously for more
than 3 km on either side of the highway. In some areas
the workings extend to more than 300 m away from the
highway. It is estimated that more than 1,500 people are
engaged in this area alone.
In some other areas several 100 metres of the high-
way’s shoulders have been dug to serve as channels to
convey water to active working areas (Figure 6). In other
places, water hoses have been laid in the channels to
transport the water.
Figure 5. A 20 m deep pit worked on the cut slope of the
road at Nsoupon near Dadieso.
Figure 6. A water channel used by miners to transport wa-
ter to wash the ore. A large worked heap (arrowed) can be
seen in the distance near to the highway.
The strength of the road is slowly being undermined
and its deterioration has been initiated by these kinds of
4) The stability of utility lines such as electric and
telephone poles located along the highway are also at
risk due to these activities and large tracts of land have
been destroyed by the haphazard manner in which min-
ing is conducted (Figures 7 and 8).
5) Some of the miners use small rock grinding cum
washing machines and few heavy digging equipment to
enhance production (Figures 9 and 10). Sometimes these
pieces of equipment are left on the shoulder of the high-
way and become a threat to motorists (Figure 9). Often
times the heavy equipment is moved on the highway,
scraping and damaging its surface.
Figure 7. Water logged area with electric cables overhead.
Poles are in the mud. Yellow patch is a section of a large
Figure 8. A mini bus arrowed showing how close the work-
ing is to the road.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
118 J. S. KUMA ET AL.
6. Dealing with the Issues
Dzigbodi-Adjimah  intimated that “legalising small-
scale or galamsey mining has been acclaimed an achieve-
ment…but galamsey has unleashed considerable havoc
onto the environment”. PNDC Law 218  defines SSM
as “the mining of gold by any method not involving sub-
stantial expenditure by an individual or group of persons
not exceeding nine in number or by a co-operative soci-
ety made up of ten or more persons”. It appears the SSM
sections in PNDCL 153  and PNDCL 218  which
were captured in Minerals and Mining Act 703  —
were meant to regularise and control the activities of
illegal mining. However, the question is whether galam-
sey mining has been sufficiently captured in these laws
such that they can be steered to work under the existing
Law. Act 703  requires among others that before any-
one can operate a SSM venture in the country, a licence
must be issued and the operator needs to be registered by
the Office of the Minerals Commission in a designated
area. An overwhelming majority of those working along
the highway and in other places have no licence and are
not registered and are therefore operating illegally. Th ere
are two fundamental reasons for this:
1) The galamsey miner cannot handle a “block” i.e.,
the minimum plot of 21 hectares (1 hectare is 10,000 m2
or simply 100 m by 100 m). Although article 85(a) of
Act 703  says a licence can be granted to “a person, a
group of persons, a cooperative society or a company…”,
traditionally, these galamsey miners are unable to fit in
because they work typically in groups of 4 or 5; such a
group cannot afford a 21 hectare land working with
shovels and small implements even though they are be-
coming more sophisticated with their use of small Chi-
nese made rock grinding and washing Chang Fa ma-
chines (Figure 9) and occasionally hire excavators to
heap ore for washing (Figure 10). While the “block”
may be manageable for the high class SSM, it is certainly
too large for others who typically would like to regular-
ise their activities but cannot cope with a block. Al-
though a number of groups can come together to form a
cooperative, which may be the idea of the government,
their management can be a nightmare.
It has been observed that the blocks being licenced to
small-scale miners are acquired by those who have capi-
tal to invest and wait for some time for their investment
to bring in returns. This brings about the seco nd reason.
2) There is no guarantee that the block allocated to the
small-scale miner is mineralised and considering that
these simple artisans cannot afford to work for days,
weeks or months without any returns, they would ignore
the risks that go with licencing a block and explore and
immediately exploit any patch of ground they find good
The phrase “not involving substantial expenditure” in
the definition of SSM is relative and for the rural folk,
this is meaningless because unemployment and poverty
are the main reasons for going into illegal mining.
Therefore, to commence SSM with 21 hectares and con-
sidering the processes leading to its acquisition coupled
with the fact that the block may not be productive is
enough incentive for the many thousands of them to
work outside the SSM law.
Thus, although SSM activities have been legalised and
gains have been made in opening up the mining industry
to small-scale entrepreneurs the law has not made provi-
sions for the legalisation of the galamsey miner. Rather
the SSM scheme has empowered the middle class Gha-
naian business man. This is good because this class of
Figure 9. Dozens of washing machines such as this Chinese
Chang Fa type are deployed. This machine was working
less than 10 m from the road.
Figure 10. Heavy digging equipment left on the shoulder of
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
J. S. KUMA ET AL.
entrepreneurs gives employment to some locals and con-
tributes to the development of the economy. It is worth
noting that most of these business men are funded by
external sources that sponso r the mining activity with th e
Ghanaian being a front for the operation.
It must be acknowledged that youth unemployment
has become a big headache for successive governments.
Most of the people engaged in this type of mining con-
sider it as their only source of employment and a profes-
sion they have decided to engage in. It is possible to
regularise their operations just as SSM has been legalised
(or what the small-scale mining law was meant to
achieve). Secondly, this business has become a highly
lucrative enterprise. Government needs to preempt and
prevent the situation of remediating destroyed lands by
designing innovative schemes such as what one would
call “the youth in mining initiative”. The prevention is
better than cure adage needs to be applied here because
the cost of remediation can be very expensive. This ini-
tiative should commence on a pilot basis in a chosen
community with prevalence of galamsey activities to
evaluate its effectiveness and if successful replicated
across the country. The initiative may be viewed in the
1) Government is interested in the welfare of all youth
and has taken cognisance of the desire of some to be
gainfully employed and contribute to the economic
growth of the country through the minerals sector.
2) Government develops to an advanced state, parcels
of land with good gold grades and passes these on to
people under structured supervision and education to
demonstrate sequential mining of the land and its reha-
bilitation to minimise all the negative outcomes associ-
ated with the industry. Dzigbodi-Adjimah and Bansah
 have estimated that the total cost for locating and
evaluating an 8 km2 alluvial gold deposit on a 64 km2
concession in Ghana under 1994 conditions excluding
bulk sampling and feasibility studies is US$284,013.63.
Using an inflation rate of 3.5% gives a current estimate
3) Just as parcels of land are sold or leased out for
housing projects or farming, land that can be surveyed
and a site plan of it made should be enough for its li-
cence provided one qualifies under the law to operate.
Since tens of thousands are already working illeg ally the
law should permit those who have carried out “prospect-
ing” in permissible areas and found the land worth ex-
ploiting to be encouraged to regularise their operations.
This is possible if there is no restriction on how small the
land has to be. Certainly, such individuals will not have
the capacity to prospect up to a block before they report
their find to the appropriate authorities for registration. A
provision must be made in the law for government to aid
in the exploration of the area where the find is made so
that the long-term viability o f the ind ividual or group can
be ascertained and sustained. In this way it is also possi-
ble that others can also be “given” part of the expanded
and viable prospect for mining.
4) Government has shown proof of its goodwill by
being interested in the health and safety of this group
which may be called “Artisanal Small-Scale Miners”
(ASSM). Government sets up mobile clinics with Medi-
cal Assistants or Senior Nurses in charge with personnel
to register ASSMs into the National Health Insurance
Scheme (NHIS) in order to deal with their health needs.
Registered ASSMs will be transferred to the district
scheme in which they engage their operations later on.
Their registration via the NHIS scheme would also en-
able their actual numbers and biodata to be known. En-
vironmental Officers of Government are posted to sites
to educate on safe mining and environmental practices.
Government also attaches personnel of Social Security
and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) to the educational
team to educate and register them so that they contribute
towards their pension and the NHIS.
5) The period between when a registration request has
been received to the time a licence is issued is carefully
considered so that delays leading to frustration is pre-
The success of the youth in mining initiative should
then lead to the promulgation of a law which specifically
targets the ASSM. As this is replicated throughout min-
ing areas in the country, environmental impacts fro m this
activity can be minimised. As noted by Anon  the pri-
ority issues associated with SSM are safety and welfare
of those engaged in the profession, water quality degra-
dation, competing land use and its rehabilitation, effi-
cient resource utilisation and maximising socio-eco-
nomic benefits of the local people. Drawing the ASSM
towards regulating bodies through government officers
so that they can be educated is adjudged the most poten-
tially effective way that their activities can be controlled.
This is achieved through an appropriate incentive scheme
to facilitate their pull towards government. This incen-
tive is the interest that gov ernment will show in the wel-
fare, health and safety of the ASSM. Indeed Temeng and
Abew  stated that 70% of a group of people inter-
viewed in mining communities with in the study area said
SSM is their major economic activity and this has posi-
tively impacted their lives because their income levels
had improved, enabling them to educate their kids, and
build or renovate their houses. This is an indication of
the importance these communities attach to SSM and
therefore one can infer that illegal mining cannot be
eradicated but at best regulated. Investigations also show
that there is a general willingness among groups like
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
J. S. KUMA ET AL.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. IJG
sponsors, rock buyers and grinders and washers to regu-
larise their activities so that they can work in peace
without harassment from law enforcers.
Enforcement of the law is required. The Po lice Service
should be empowered to patrol and enforce the law espe-
cially around national assets such as forest reserves,
roads, railway lines, bridges and other structures. In the
case of the highway, the cost of constructing one kilo-
meter single lane, 7.5 m wide asphalt and bituminous
roads is estimated at US$387,000.00 and US$50,000.00
respectively . Now that the Tarkwa to Dunkwa sec-
tion of the double bitumen tarred highway is under threat,
and in other parts of the country similar threats are being
observed due to illegal mining activities, a decisive ac-
tion to at least significantly reduce their activities will
cost less. Reconstruction of this highway is expected to
cost more because access to the sides of the highway
would have to be created for traffic to continue to flow
while the road is under construction and some of these
pits and water logged areas will first have to be filled and
made safe .
If this sector is managed properly so that the small-
scale miners are educated to work in an environmentally
friendly way, better methods of mining would result in
better recovery and their total share of the national pro-
duce could increase significantly. Taxes obtained from
the ASSM could also help develop their communities.
More mining and related geo-environmental scientists
and engineers would also be employed by government to
train and monitor the ASSM further reducing unem-
ployment. The no action condition is a much more ex-
pensive alternative to comprehend because illegality is
tacitly endorsed in addition to the costs of replacing de-
stroyed structures and remediating the environment,
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Avenue Road,” Department of Urban Roads and High-
ways, Accra, 2009, p. 4.