GOLD MATTERS project team members with expertise from South America and West Africa recently undertook collective pilot fieldwork in northern Ghana. The fieldwork aimed to examine miners’ working conditions underground; gender aspects of work along the value chain, and the influence of international mining mobilities on localized mining practices. Three key findings stand out in the preliminary results:
- Collaboration matters for underground working conditions
Preliminary results show how underground mining is not just determined by competition over gold matters but also by collaboration. Competing groups of miners construct their own shafts to access gold ore, but they all have a shared interest in optimising working conditions. Ventilation is key, and circulation of air is substantially improved when the vertical tunnels are connected. These open connections may make it easier for competing groups to steal gold ore, but the fieldwork suggested that the possibility of theft was considered less important than creating healthier working conditions for all miners, and so miners chose to collaborate.
- Women play important roles along the value chain
Attention to gender issues and obtaining the views of women on their work in processing ore is central to the GOLD MATTERS project. The preliminary findings from northern Ghana suggest that men tend to portray women’s involvement as an act of generosity on their part; men allow women to obtain a share in the distribution of gold wealth. However, getting women’s perspectives revealed the tough negotiations that go on over work deals and redistribution – both with men and among the women themselves. In working towards collaborations around transformations to sustainability, the GOLD MATTERS researchers will continue to team up with the strong and vocal women they met during this fieldtrip.
- International mobility among miners intersects with localized mining practices
Nowadays, processed ore is often bought up to be re-worked by means of cyanidation. At many mining sites this process is mainly carried out by outsiders, with Burkinabé prominently involved in Northern Ghana. The research showed that there is a strong awareness of the dangers of cyanide. The team looked at precautions (e.g. skin protection) in the work practices, but also at the negotiations of Burkinabé with local communities. Strict rules govern the locations of cyanidation sites so that neither the community members nor their livestock can come into physical contact with cyanide.