Mutualism, Commensalism or Parasitism? Perspectives on Tailings Trade between Large-Scale and Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in Ghana


Due to poor technology and lack of proper skills in mineral processing techniques, a greater percentage (about 70%) of gold is lost to the tailings stream in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM). These tailings, in the last decade, have become a major source of revenue for some large-scale mining (LSM) companies in Ghana because they have advanced technologies to optimize recovery. This paper examines the tailings trade between ASGM and LSM companies in Ghana and determines their associated relationships. It also informs policy decisions regarding gold mining in Ghana. Field visits were made to licensed ASGM sites in the Tarkwa Mining District where the trade is mostly practiced to obtain first-hand information and conduct interviews with diggers. Results indicate that both ASGM operators and LSM companies derive revenue from the tailings trade, exhibiting a relationship that could be described as mutualistic. Based on the tailings price determination, the symbiotic relationship is described as parasitic because the tailings pricing process is largely controlled by the LSM companies to the detriment of the ASGM operators. As a result of the environmental dangers posed by the tailings trade, the interdependency could equally be described as parasitic since both the ASGM operators and the LSM companies benefit to the detriment of the natural ecosystem. It was also observed that while some stakeholders attempt to criminalize the tailings trade, there is presently no law or regulation that prohibits such trade in the Ghanaian mining industry.


Mining Engineering


This paper has been derived from a study conducted and funded by Mining & Community Research, a non-profit organization in Ghana. The authors would like to thank Mr. Bernard Ntibrey, former Head of the Tarkwa ASGM district, who helped the research team reach the licensed artisanal miners in the district. Much appreciation goes to all the artisanal and small-scale mining supervisors or owners who allowed access to their sites to conduct interviews with miners. All the interviewees are also well appreciated in making time and effort to share their comments during the interview stage. The authors are also grateful to Elsie Assan of the Department of Community Sustainability, Michigan State University. We are also thankful to Kathleen Morris of Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center, Emily Seals and Amra Mehanovic of the Graduate Office of Missouri University of Science and Technology for their support. The authors acknowledge the graduates from the University of Mines and Technology - Ghana who helped in conducting the interviews.

Keywords and Phrases

Accident prevention; Commerce; Cyanides; Ecology; Gold mines; Mercury (metal); Advanced technology; Artisanal and small scale mining; Environment; Large-scale mining; Mineral processing; Natural ecosystem; Price determination; Symbiotic relationship; Economic geology; Artisanal mining; Cyanide; Gold mine; Mercury (element); Policy approach; Safety; Small scale mining; Tailings; Ghana; Artisanal and small-scale mining; Tailings trade

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Article - Journal

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Publication Date

01 Aug 2018