Large swathes of Ghana’s gold belt have been laid to waste in the search for the precious metal by illegal small-scale miners. Cocoa plantations have been cut down and rivers polluted with heavy metals, including mercury, used to extract gold.
In this, the second of a four-part film series on illegal gold mining in Ghana, we investigate the impact of the galamseys — as these miners are known locally — on the environment.
We meet a mining inspector, who explains how the activity is forbidden near water bodies, and why this is where a lot of illegal mining occurs. We talk to an expert about the link between mercury contamination and the skin ulcers that often afflict the miners, and we meet a miner as he handles mercury with his bare hands to extract gold from a river bed.
[NAIROBI] Since the adoption of the UN’s Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development by world leaders on 25 September last year, I have been looking for opportunities that can offer innovative lessons for Africa to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One such opportunity arose last week (3 February) when I attended the 15th anniversary celebrations of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI), at which the role of biosciences in achieving the SDGs was discussed.
Scientists and researchers need to link research to national, regional and global agenda through effective science communication.
By Gilbert Nakweya
At the event in Kenya, I listened to scientists, policymakers, researchers and international development partners reflect on the challenges and opportunities in biosciences for Africa’s transformation and how the continent can harness biosciences to achieve the SDGs.
I know that with the gravity of the problems facing Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a sense of urgency to find a roadmap towards sustainable development that could lead to a positive transformation of the continent.
So as I listened to the experts at the BecA-ILRI event, I realised that communicating science, technology and innovations remains a challenge for adopting ground-breaking research.
There exists a gap in knowledge between scientists and policymakers which hinders development because a number of countries have policies that are not research-oriented and fail to capture key areas of using science, technology and innovation for transformation.
In agriculture I believe, for example, that communities — especially where rural smallholder farmers live—can be linked to innovations in science and technology through favourable policies. This is critical to sustainable development.
Consequently, agricultural scientists in the global South are being challenged to advocate for science through effective communication with all those with key roles to play, especially policymakers and smallholder farmers, to enable sustainable growth within the realm of the SDGs.
The role of effective and efficient science communication cannot be overemphasised. Scientists and researchers need to link research to national, regional and global agenda through effective science communication.
Science journalism also needs to be strengthened in Africa to help bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers. Science journalists have a key role in ensuring that the populace appreciates the role of scientific innovations in transforming Africa.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.
Elephant populations in southern Africa’s national parks have increased dramatically in recent years. As a result of their booming numbers, vast dietary requirements and expansive ranges, elephants sometimes roam outside the borders of protected areas in search of food.
Farmers in communities surrounding national parks rely heavily on subsistence agriculture for food and income. Unfortunately, when elephants venture into these human settlements, they cause significant damage to crops and property resulting in major financial losses to rural farmers.
This behaviour, referred to as crop raiding, represents the root cause of human-elephant conflict throughout southern Africa.
Farmers have resorted to a host of preventative measures to ensure that the elephants stay away from their property. These include the use of loud noises, fire, and chilli paste. Some may be effective in deterring raiding elephants, but there are drawbacks. They require constant vigilance; they can expose farmers to a charging elephant; they are labour intensive; and, in the case of chilli paste, require repeated application.
A recent paper has proposed using a fabricated bee threat to deter elephants in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
Bees as a deterrent
Using African honeybees as an elephant deterrent is not a novel concept. Lucy King and colleagues have been toying with the idea in east Africa for some time now. They have found that audio playback of disturbed bee sounds can induce elephants to retreat. They have also found that beehive fences may prove more effective in protecting rural farmlands than traditional thorn fences.
Despite these previous investigations, bees have never been used as a management tool in South Africa – until now. The recent study conducted experimental trials in the Kruger to assess the responses of wild African elephants to a bee threat.
The paper evaluated the responses of elephants to five experimental treatments:
buzzing bee noise;
control noise with honey scent;
honey scent; and
bee noise with honey scent.
Elephant responses were classified into 11 possible behaviours, ranging from attentive to threatening.
The response of the elephants
Elephants exposed to the mixed stimulus treatment of bee noise with honey scent displayed cautious and defensive behaviours. Fifteen of the 21 elephants fled the vicinity. But, on their own, neither the noise nor scent elicited an equally dramatic response. In other words, independent stimuli (angry bee noise or honey scent) did not adequately convince elephants of a realistic bee threat.
Elephant curiosity was captured, but only for a brief moment, by the isolated sound of angry bees or the distant scent of honey. Neither induced an avoidance response.
In previous east African studies elephants responded differently. They fled at the mere sound of bees. The discrepancy in responses between elephants in the east African studies and the South African study may be explained by the unique dynamics and pressures that characterise elephant populations in southern Africa.
Elephant populations in east Africa are shrinking as a result of poaching and are also becoming more skittish and wary of disturbances in their environment. However, elephant densities are steadily increasing in protected areas throughout southern Africa.
These dynamics may contribute to a more confident elephant population in South Africa, making them less susceptible to disturbance by an unconvincing bee threat.
Ultimately, it makes sense that these intelligent animals would rely on multiple stimuli to assess risk and navigate their surroundings; managers must account for this as they move forward in developing effective elephant deterrents.
Although isolated auditory and olfactory cues proved ineffective in deterring elephants in the Kruger Park, the success of the mixed stimulus treatment implicates live bees as a viable management tool. If South African elephants are not convinced by a fabricated bee threat, perhaps they require the real thing to induce a lasting avoidance response.
The same researchers have embarked on answering this question in a current study in the Kruger National Park, with a particular focus on using beehives to selectively deter elephants from overly utilised watering points.
Bees represent a promising tool for managing elephant movements with potential to contribute to long-term conservation of the species by offering an alternative to lethal management of problem elephants.
Emma Devereux, who is a colleague of Dr Ndlovu, featured as a co-author of this article.
People have mined for gold in what is now Ghana for thousands of years. The precious metal has always been easy to find, hence the name the British gave the country when they colonised it: the Gold Coast. In this four-part film series, we investigate the role of illegal, small-scale mining — an increasingly important part of Ghana’s gold producing industry — and its impacts on human health and the environment.
As a result of a modern-day gold rush induced by a spike in the price of the metal triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, Ghana is now the second largest producer of gold in Africa. More than 30 per cent of this gold is produced by small-scale miners, known as galamseys, who often work illegally. Despite the price of gold having fallen over the past year, there is no sign of an end to the galamsey activity.
In this series, we travel to Ghana’s gold belt to meet the galamseys and learn about their struggle with poverty, pollution and stigma. The galamseys don’t know how to safely handle the mercury and other dangerous elements needed to extract and process gold, putting their health at risk, as well as that of those who eat fish from polluted rivers. As the mining industry keeps expanding, its toll on public health and the environment is morphing into a national crisis.
During our trip, we explore potential ways to turn this challenge into an opportunity, tapping into the economic potential of the mining sector while making sure that the galamseys are protected from health hazards and exploitation.
We also learn how Ghana’s gold rush has become an international race, with thousands of Chinese miners illegally entering the country over the past ten years.