In March, collective pilot fieldwork was undertaken in Northern Ghana involving team members with different regional expertise. The research involved two senior researchers with expertise in respectively South America and West Africa, one PhD working in Burkina Faso and one in Uganda. Three topics were central: the working conditions underground, gender aspects of work along the value chain, and the influence of international mining mobilities on localized mining practices. Preliminary results show how underground mining is not just determined by competition over gold matters but also by collaboration.
Competing groups, each accessing gold ore by constructing their own shafts, have a shared interest in optimising working conditions. Ventilation is key, and circulation of air is substantially improved when the vertical tunnels are connected. Collaboration to work under more healthy conditions is considered more important than the threat that open connections may make theft of gold more easier. Attention to gender and obtaining the views of women on their work in processing ore is central to the project. 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. Perspectives of women, however, show tough negotiations over work deals and redistribution both with men and among women. In working towards collaborations around transformations to sustainability, we will continue to team up with the strong and vocal women we met during this fieldtrip. 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, in Northern Ghana Burkinabe are prominently involved.
The research showed that there is a strong awareness of the dangers of cyanide. We looked at precautions (e.g. skin protection) in the work practices, but also at the negotiations of Burkinabe with local communities. Strict rules are applied as to where cyanidation sites are allowed, to assure that community members nor their livestock can come into physical contact with cyanide.