sharing in governance of extractive industries

'Crops' or 'Carats'? Interaction between gold mining and cocoa production and the livelihood dilemma in Amansie Central District of Ghana

This piece is originally published by United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD): http://www.unrisd.org/ystp-yeboah.


For the past two decades, gold mining and agriculture have contributed consistently to economic growth and development in Ghana. In 2013, gold mining contributed US$3,673 million in exports. Agriculture employed about 60 per cent of the active labour force and cocoa, the leading cash crop, contributed an estimated US$1,731 million in exports in 2013 (Government of Ghana 2013). While farming is the traditional source of livelihood, artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) has emerged in communities endowed with natural resources as a lucrative activity due to its remarkable income-generating potential.

Mining and agriculture may co-exist and interact to generate economic and social benefits, but at the same time they compete for land, water resources and labour. On the one hand, land is seized for mining that otherwise could be used for farming; labour is attracted away from agriculture into mining; and mining pollutes water needed for farm irrigation. On the other hand, mining generates money that supplements the income of farmers who branch out into mining, allowing them to improve the productivity of their farms through buying inputs like fertilizers, and hiring labour (see: Hilson and Garforth 2012; 2013). Despite the importance of mining and agriculture to socio-economic development, the dynamics of their interaction have seldom received attention and are sometimes underestimated by scholars, governments, corporate entities and donors. There is a need for greater understanding of the mining–agriculture nexus to ensure that the two interact in a positive and balanced manner, producing social and economic development without disrupting the livelihoods of rural people whose lives are tied to farming. 

The interaction is explored from two perspectives that constitute the basic components of livelihoods for rural farmers: namely, income and natural resources (i.e. land and water). This think piece argues that despite its income-generating potential, ASM is not an alternative economic activity to farming, but a complementary economic activity for some farmers. It pursues the argument that while gold generates income benefits for some individual farmers, these benefits are outweighed by the aggregate costs of ASM activities in terms of the collective loss of agricultural lands and water pollution.

The case study: Amansie Central District in Ghana

This think piece draws upon a qualitative research study in the Amansie Central District of Ghana in January and February 2014. In Amansie Central District, agriculture is the main economic activity, employing about 80 per cent of the people in both smallholder and large-scale farming.1 Farmers mainly grow cash crops like cocoa and oil palm. Some of these farmers also engage in ASM activities, largely on an informal (illegal) basis. Using in-depth open and semi-structured interviews, and participant observations, 55 cocoa farmers and miners were sampled in seven communities.2 Of the 55 farmers interviewed, 14 either engage directly in mining or a household member does.

To mine or to farm? Income, natural resources and the livelihood dilemma in Amansie Central

Income motives form the basis of livelihood diversification in rural communities. According to Barrett et al. (2001: 315), livelihood diversification is the norm in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers branch out into non-farm activities in order to secure a better livelihood (Barrett et al. 2001; Hilson and Garforth 2012). In Amansie Central District, farmers diversify into ASM to reduce the risks inherent in cocoa farming such as over-dependence on erratic rainfall patterns, lack of access to land, farm inputs and credits, poor and inaccessible roads, and lower producer prices for cocoa. It was evident during interviews and observations that many farmers seek alternative sources of income. The central difference between farming and ASM is seen in the form of income generation. Samuel Ofori Duodu, a cocoa farmer and miner, indicated that he earns about US$300 a month from artisanal mining as compared to an acre of cocoa farm that generates about US$170 per harvest within a year (Interview, 13/02/2014). This means Samuel could potentially earn US$3,600 a year compared to roughly US$340 he gets from cocoa (there are normally two cocoa harvests per year). However, revenues from mining are not regular and depend on several factors including the price of gold on the international market and the ability to explore new mining concessions which demand sophisticated machines. It is, however, obvious that ASM is more profitable than farming. 

Income from mining, according to accounts of farmers (who have turned miners), enables them to hire more labourers for their cocoa farms, buy expensive fertilizers and educate their children. This finding supports research results in Hilson and Garforth (2013) who assert that income from small scale mining had “…increased families’ access to agricultural inputs, in turn, enhancing crop yields, and has enabled them to secure high quality education for their children – things which smallholder farming activities were incapable of doing” (p. 356).

Nevertheless, the co-existence of mining and farming is not a simple win-win situation: there is acute competition over land and water resources. Farmers lose their land and farms to activities of mostly informal (illegal) ASM. Hilson (2002: 21) contends that there is "perhaps no single industry that has precipitated more disputes over land-use than mining." In communities visited during the author’s fieldwork, there were contestations regarding loss and destruction of land and farms, and pollution of water bodies. Forms of land ownership in Ghana contribute to the prevalence of land disputes. Customary land ownership and tenure exist alongside state title tenure3 and the 1992 Constitution of Ghana recognizes it. However, customary land ownership is informal, based on simple acknowledgement without any documentary proof. 

Artisanal and small-scale miners (who are not farmers and are engage exclusively in mining) capitalize on this informal land ownership structure to seize lands often with little or no compensation to farmers. There are multiple cases where cocoa farms have been destroyed without the free, prior and informed consent of farmers concerned. Artisanal and small-scale miners tend to seek the consent of traditional authorities with disregard to farmers who have the right of use of the land. 

Compensation paid to farmers for loss of land and farms has come under scrutiny. The mode and amount of the compensation given to farmers once in their lifetime for loss of land and farms could easily trap them in poverty. The Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) governs compensation payments and requires mining companies or an individual miner to pay affected occupiers of the land (see also: Akabzaa 2000). The crude calculation used values one cocoa tree at about 15-25 Ghana cedis (US$10-US$15). Compensation is paid once by miners (who are not farmers) to a farmer and is calculated based on the maturity of crops and what a farmer could produce from his farm within a year. But cocoa trees, as explained by an Agricultural Officer in the District Office of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), can “survive for more than 70 years” (Interview, Stephen Asiamah, 10/02/2014). John K Annoh, a farmer with a 20-acre cocoa farm, reported that “only US$750 was paid for five acre farm that was taken over by an artisanal and small-scale miner” (Interview, household head, Annoh, (10/02/2014). 

The disputed claims over land use are connected to water resources too. Farmers complained over massive pollution of water sources. Field observations during the research revealed that “most water sources available to farmers for irrigation” have been polluted by ASM activities, meaning that crucially farmers are unable to irrigate their crops during the dry season (November–March), where there are no rains. Farmers interviewed indicated that irrigation makes vegetable production easy and profitable during the dry seasons. But due to water pollution by ASM activities, producing vegetables during the dry seasons is extremely difficult, if not impossible, and no longer profitable.

Livelihood support: ‘crop’ or ‘carat’?

Despite the challenges that beset farming as a consequence of mining, levels of income remain sufficient to support livelihoods. Income assessment undertaken during this field research shows that 21 out of 55 farmers interviewed earn 100-300 Ghana cedis (US$40 and US$120) while eight farmers earn between 300 and 500 Ghana cedis (US$120 and US$200) in a season harvest (Household interviews). There are on average two harvests per year. Analysing this from the perspective that these farmers also grow other food staples shows that cocoa farming supports and sustains livelihoods of farming households relatively well. Farmers summarized this point with this argument: “These houses that you see were all built with cocoa money. This is what feeds us.” This explains why farming households still have great affinity for farming, despite booming ASM.

These findings are in contrast with the assessment of Hilson and Garforth (2012: 443) in their study in East Akim District of Ghana who state that “ASM has replaced smallholder farming as the primary income-earning activity”. Their study fails to recognize that in communities that grow cash crops on a smallholder basis (and who constitute the majority of farmers), agriculture is still the primary income-earning economic activity. 41 out of the 55 smallholder and large-scale farmers interviewed said they were aware of the various challenges ASM poses. They, therefore, have little interest in ASM. 

The case study research findings show that the age of farmers, size of farm and production capital are key in farmers’ decisions whether to mine or not. Farmers below the age of 50 (17 out of the 55 farmers interviewed), and especially those with less than six acres of land, were more likely to pursue mining because their cocoa production might not adequately provide for their needs in terms of farming inputs and education of the household. Farmers over the age of 50 reported very little incentive to branch out into mining. “Looking at my age, you don’t expect your grandmother to do ‘galamsey ’”,4 was the response of a 65-year old farmer (household head) with a six-acre cocoa farm responding to the question: Why are you not engaging in artisanal mining? (Interview, Akua Manu, 13/02/2014). 


This research invites thinking about the interaction between mining and agriculture in the context of social livelihoods in Africa. A majority of farmers interviewed prefer in the longer term ‘crops’ to ‘carats’ because farming is more sustainable compared to ASM. Also, farming is the economic activity they have long lived with. Although ASM provides an additional source of income for some farmers, it is more of a complementary activity rather than a complete substitute for farming. The costs far outweigh the benefits ASM provides to these communities. ASM affects land and farms too often with little or no compensation. The majority (90 per cent) of farmers sampled in the district indicated that compensation is not adequate to mitigate the cost of the permanent loss of lands and destruction of cocoa farms.

1 I categorize smallholder farms as those with less than six acres of land. Large-scale farms are those with six acres or more of land.

2 Communities included: Jacobu (district capital), Fiankoma, Behenase, Akutuase, Bepotintin, Oseikrom and Fenaso.

3 In Ghana, there are two basic categories of land ownership and tenure. Land either belongs to the state or to the stools. The 'stool' refers to the customary throne, or more generally to a tribe or tribal leader. It could be a traditional authority (the chief) or the head of a family. The stool holds land in trust and on behalf of the community or a family. About 20 per cent of land is owned by the State and stools own 80 per cent (Aubynn 2006).

4 Artisanal mining is locally referred to as 'galamsey2, literally from 'gather them and sell', a description of how gold extraction activities take place.

Akabzaa, Thomas. 2000. Boom and Dislocation: Environmental Impacts of Mining in the Wassa West District of Ghana. Accra: Third World Network – Africa

Aubynn, Anthony. 2006. "‘Live and let live’: the relationship between artisanal/small- scale and large-scale miners at Abosso Goldfields, Ghana." In Small-scale Mining, Rural Subsistence and Poverty in West Africa, edited by Gavin Hilson, 227–240. Rugby, UK: Practical Action Publishing.

Barrett, Christopher, Thomas Reardon, and Patrick Webb. 2001. “Nonfarm income diversification and household livelihood strategies in rural Africa: concepts, dynamics, and policy implications.”Food Policy 26, 315-331.

Government of Ghana. 2013. The Budget Statement and Economic Policy: Financial Year 2014. Accra: Government of Ghana.

Hilson, Gavin. 2002. “An overview of land use conflicts in mining communities”. Land Use Policy 19, 65-73.

Hilson, Gavin and Chris Garforth. 2012. “‘Agricultural Poverty’ and the Expansion of Artisanal Mining in Sub-Saharan Africa: Experiences from Southwest Mali and Southeast Ghana.” Population Resources Policy 31, 435-464.

Hilson, Gavin and Chris Garforth. 2013. “‘Everyone is Now Concentrating on the Mining’: Drivers and Implications of Rural Economic Transition in the Eastern Region of Ghana”. Journal of Development Studies 49:3, 348-364.


Stephen Yeboah is currently a Research Fellow at the Africa Progress Panel, a non-profit organization chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Stephen’s areas of research include agriculture, natural resources governance and sustainable development. A trained journalist, he has published articles on migration, aid, agriculture, mining, and oil and gas. He is also the Head of Research on Oil and Gas for the Center for Social Impact Studies (CeSIS), a non-governmental organization based in Ghana, and Research Consultant for the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). Stephen holds an M.A. in Development Studies from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland.

Views: 653

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of GOXI to add comments!


Comment by Nelson Oppong on November 17, 2014 at 18:23

Interesting piece. Was attracted to it because I come from the Amansie Central district. I like the connection you attempt to draw between agriculture and mining, which have never been subjected very much to empirical validation. Although I am surprised you failed to cite the Third World Network  study "Glittering Facade." I agree with your point that ASM does not necessarily displace different modes of accumulation, in this case agriculture. I have always found such simplistic conclusions troubling. And I will argue that it applies to other employment avenues as well. I personally know of public servants, for instance, who are actively involved ASM because there is always a sense that it is risky, illegal and not long-term. You make a conscious effort to unpack different layers of farmers (according to age, farm size, etc.), which is good. Going forward, it would be good to give a more detailed background of your respondents; how did they end up in ASM? What expertise do they draw on to engage in mining? Do they have a prior history of working with large-scale mining? 

Comment by Professor Gavin Hilson on November 13, 2014 at 0:34
I have just read your briefing, ‘Crops or Carats’. Interesting. I have been exploring farming-ASM linkages in Ghana and wider sub-Saharan Africa for close to 15 years now. 
A few things about your brief. The first is your conclusion that the majority of those you interviewed in Amansie Central claiming they are farmers first. Whilst I do not question what they said to you, I do question the truth behind their claims. This is, after all, a district which borders Obuasi and Dunkwa-On-Offin, which have long been two of Ghana’s ASM epicentres. I find it hard to believe that these people insist that farming is their primary occupation. I suspect it relates to their livelihood trajectory: scores of people I have interviewed over the years have jumped out of farming and into ASM because it earns them money and it enables them to send their kids to school, buy a house and keep their family happy. But these people, despite engaging in ASM for like, 20 years, still consider and therefore classify themselves as ‘farmers’. Moreover, a lot of it could be the stigma attached to the ‘galamsey’ label which leads many not to disclose details of their true identity.

Second, I want to draw attention to your claim that ‘agriculture is the main economic activity, employing about 80 per cent of the people in both smallholder and large-scale farming’. Similar numbers have been put forward for Ghana on the whole. The reality, however, is that most of Ghana’s people are engaged, not employedin agriculture. As one of my colleagues from Legon says all of the time: ‘who in Africa doesn’t have a farm?’ I have written a paper which challenges the GDP argument – specifically, the GDP figures used to generalize about employment in Africa.

Third, and something that I have learned over the years in not only Ghana but everywhere else I have done work: who in their right mind would supply a researcher with details of their income? If someone came up to me in the street, and asked me how much I earn, I would tell them to get lost. No galamsey operator in their right mind would tell you how much he earns, over fear of details of his production getting out to the wrong people: the sponsor he depends on, the police he bribes, and the corrupt chief who wants his gold. One must monitor the spending patterns of these galamsey and take stock of their household inventories before drawing conclusions about earnings.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, how generalizable are your findings? You claim: ‘These findings are in contrast with the assessment of Hilson and Garforth (2012: 443) in their study in East Akim District of Ghana who state that “ASM has replaced smallholder farming as the primary income-earning activity”. Their study fails to recognize that in communities that grow cash crops on a smallholder basis (and who constitute the majority of farmers), agriculture is still the primary income-earning economic activity.’ I am not understanding your last sentence here. The point of our article was that people who have long grown cash crops, and who engaged in agriculture as a full-time occupation, are no longer doing so because it is unviable. Moreover, our work was conducted in East Akim (in the Eastern Region), which is many miles, cultures and gold mining histories away from your study site in the Ashanti Region. One cannot and should not generalize based on an experience in Amansie Central, particularly if it is being used to discredit claims made about a locality which is not even in the same economic, cultural or historical time zone.

Just a few points about this very nuanced subject.

Best regards,


Comment by Keith Slack on November 11, 2014 at 20:02

Nice article, Steven! Readers interested in seeing graphically how mining and agriculture are coming into conflict in Ghana (and Peru) might wish to consult our report "Geographies of Conflict" published earlier this year with Clark University:



           GOXI Partners


  • Add Videos
  • View All

© 2019   Created by Kobina Aidoo.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service