Livelihoods in Transition? De-Agrarianization and the Rise of Artisanal Mining in sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev


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Description This research has investigated the shortcomings of a 'farm first' approach to rural poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa by providing insight on the situation in Ghana. Specifically, it has cast light on the centrality of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) - low-tech, labour intensive mineral extraction and processing - to the livelihoods of rural Ghanaians, and presented evidence which points to how it has become the principal income earning activity for hundreds of thousands of the country's rural families. The research has had four major impacts. It has: 1) broadened empirical understanding of the centrality of ASM to rural livelihoods in Ghana and wider sub-Saharan Africa; 2) challenged the discourse of a 'farm-first' approach to rural poverty alleviation in the region; 3) broadened understanding of the links between poverty and ASM growth in rural sub-Saharan Africa; 4) provided fresh insight on the disconnect between policymakers' interpretations of ASM and the realities on the ground. As findings have not been fully disseminated, it is difficult at this early stage to gauge fully what the impact of the research will be.

There are three main findings from this work. The first is a compilation of semi-structured interview data which capture how rural inhabitants are moving out of farming into artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) because of the inability of agriculture to support livelihoods on its own. Confirming our hypothesis, scores of rural families across Ghana have moved into ASM because of poverty, and the structural and economic challenges they face as farmers. This feeds into the second main finding, which is data which, in contrast to policy, point to ASM - not farming - being the main source of income for rural families in the areas of Ghana visited. This confirms a second hypothesis - namely, that the policy approach being taken to tackle rural poverty in the country is far too homogenous, desperately in need of a reinvigoration to ensure that a more nuanced approach is adopted. A third, and interrelated, finding was - and also much-anticipated - confirmation through interviews with key decision-makers of how unaware and neglectful policymakers are of the economic importance of ASM and the limited capability of farming to alleviate poverty in Ghana. Further to this, findings affirmed also how disconnected the local media, which portrays ASM as a 'get-rich-quick' activity, is from the reality on the ground, which is that the sector is more of a poverty-driven activity.
Exploitation Route This can be broken down into three main groups. The first is the Ghanaian Government, which has long championed that the ASM sector is a product of 'get rich quick' fever. It appears to be finally embracing the idea that a great number of its people mine because of poverty and, more specifically, 'agricultural poverty'. The most telling evidence of this is the willingness of particular government bodies to get involved with project work in this area, such as the aforementioned DELPHE project: one of the partners is the director of small-scale mining at the Ghana Minerals Commission, the body in charge of mining regulation and policy formulation in the country. Other organizations such as MOFA are now opening up to the idea of interconnectedness and how dynamic the country's rural economy truly is. The second group are the donors, who appear to be digesting the ideas - albeit very slowly - presented in this research. The willingness of the World Bank through the NREG project suggests that donors are beginning to embrace the idea that ASM is much more a part of the African rural economy than initially believed. A final group who the findings have impacted - albeit very differently - are the local government staff, who face the onerous challenge of managing ASM-smallholder dynamics. Staff at study sites such as Talensi-Nabdam is now better equipped to deal with this because ASM has existed in their districts for some time. But at other study sites such as East Akim, where ASM is a recent phenomenon, the realization that ASM must be promoted poses an entirely different challenge.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy


Description I believe so. The work has spawned significant investigation in the NGO and donor communities into the linkages between ASM and smallholder farming in sub-Saharan Africa. It seems that the former is now gaining more currency on the donor agenda, which is terrific news. The PI has since delivered keynotes on the subject, secured complementary funding from the British Council and British Academy, and produced reports on the subject for the donor and NGO community. It seems we have reached the key policy audiences with our argument for needing a more nuanced outlook on rural development in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in areas where ASM is rooted.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Other
Impact Types Cultural



Policy & public services

Description Ghana policymakers
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The findings helped to inform strategy to simplify and revamp the licensing system for small-scale mining.
Description DELPHE
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2010 
End 09/2013
Description Small Grant
Amount £20,700 (GBP)
Organisation International Growth Centre (IGC) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 08/2014
Description Small Grants
Amount £5,665 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2010 
End 08/2010
Description Ghana Partnerships 
Organisation University of Mines and Technology
Department Department of Mining Engineering
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The work helped to establish a partnership with the University of Mines and Technology, with whom the PI has since collaborated enormously. Two subequent grants have come out of this partnership.
Collaborator Contribution The Universityof Mines and Technology provides logisitical support for all research carried out by the PI. The PI also collaborates heavily with Professor Richard Amankwah, who also serves as a mentor for his PhD students whose fieldwork is in Ghana.
Impact Two principal outputs, the first being the British Council DELPHIE grant, which enabled us to explore the work further, following rejection from the ESRC to carry out further work in the area. The details are as follows: "Artisanal Mining, Smallholder Farming and Economic Development: Developing a Strategy for Poverty Alleviation in Rural Ghana" £60,000 (September 2010-September 2013) (With Professor Richard Amankwah, University of Mines and Technology Ghana) Funding provided by DELPHE-British Council. Research/workshops were carried out with colleagues from the University of Mines and Technology to identify linkages between farming and artisanal mining. One publication has come out of the research thus far. It is as follows: Hilson, G., Amankwah, R., Ofori, G. 2013. Going for Gold: Transitional Livelihoods in Northern Ghana. The Journal of Modern African Studies 51(1): 109-137.
Start Year 2009
Description Agricultural Poverty' and the Expansion of Artisanal Mining: Case studies from West Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The discussion sparked discussions and questions afterward and conncected the PI to policymakers.

Two grant applications came out of this. The PI was also invited to deliver presentations to policymaking audiences in Ghana twice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
Description Livelihoods in Transition: De-Agrarianization and the Rise of Artisanal Mining in sub-Saharan Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The talk sparked discussion with and questions afterward.

Had some email feedback from students, many of whom wanted to do a PhD.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
Description Poverty, De-agrarianization and the Rise of Small-Scale Mining in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions.

Collaboration with colleagues from Toronto, and possible overseas collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011