All Our Forests Sit on Gold
It appears Ghana would have some tough decisions to make in the future regarding whether it should allow mining in the country's forest reserves or not. This is because, as explained by Mr. Oppon Sasu of the Forestry Commission, "every forest reserve in the country is sitting on one mineral resource or the other."
That is not all; some of the over 300 forest reserves are also protecting water sheds. The Atiwa range, for example, contains very important rivers including Densu which is the source of water for the Weija Dam that serves most homes in Accra.
The Forestry Commission suspects that the colonial government, which created most of the reserves in the 1930s and 40s, deliberately and maybe strategically created them in mineral bearing areas. The reason for doing so does not however appear to be too clear to the commission.
What is clear though is that, to pursue mining and at the same time preserve its forest reserves, Ghana would have to steer clear of surface mining, which is becoming the order of the day in the mining industry across the globe. As underground mining becomes more capital intensive, a lot of companies are opting for surface mining which is relatively cheaper and safer for workers.
Environmentally, however, surface or open-pit mining results in the removal of forest cover and a dislocation of the ecological balance of whole areas. "If we want to go into surface mining, it will cause a lot of degradation," says Mr. Sasu.
Mr. Oppon Sasu said his outfit is not against mining per say, but that the method of mining employed in the country must be such that the country does not end up losing its ecology.
That is not to say, though, that surface mining is not already taking place in Ghana. A lot of farming communities in the Tarkwa, Obuasi and Ahafo areas have already lost large tracts of farmlands to mining companies engaged in surface mining.
The Ajenua Bepo reserve in the Eastern Region which is said to have been given out to Newmont to mine remains a controversial issue and yet to be resolved. Surface mining does not only need the land on which to extract the mineral, it also needs extra land for dumping rock waste that will result after extracting the mineral.
"According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Newmont Akyem project, a proposed open pit to be created as a result of the company's operations would be exactly 900 metres wide, 2,560 metres long and 480 metres deep. Approximately, the mining project would generate 130 million tonnes of waste rock, which would have to be disposed of, and this has implications for the livelihoods of the people in the area."
At Teberebie near Tarkwa, farmers have laid down their tools after losing their farmlands to AngloGold Ashanti for the dumping of rock waste.
Ghana's total forest cover, in the last fifty years, is said to have fallen from 8.2 million hectares to 1.6 million last year. The annual deforestation rate has been averaging 65,000 hectares per year, a trend that is alarming enough to prompt policies that safeguard our forests.