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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? 

Stephen:
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,

Gavin