Afew years after coming as a teenager to this Ghanaian town to prospect for gold, Yaw Ngoha had made enough cash to marry his sweetheart and build a house with a porch, to which he would later add a flat-screen TV and satellite dish.
So when a town elder invited a doctor to talk to mine workers about the hazards of wildcat mining, “nobody listened”, said the 36-year-old, sitting on a wooden bench on his porch in a lush banana grove.
“We needed money.”
Since Ngoha started prospecting in the early 2000s, more and more people like him have helped Ghana grow into Africa’s biggest gold producer. Across the continent and beyond, millions have turned to the trade. Few are deterred by the risks.
Ngoha was living in the town of Bawdie in Ghana’s western region. The area is a major producer of cocoa, rubber and palm oil grown by smallholder farmers. Ghanaian cocoa is used by chocolate makers worldwide.
But cash crops are fickle, back-breaking, slow-paying and hungry for land.
And the rocks here are laced with so much gold, they glisten. Early colonists called this region the Gold Coast. The Ashanti people of southern Ghana have long made fortunes from what Ghanaians call “galamsay” mining – from the term “gather-and-sell”. Since 2008, gold prices have risen, digging equipment from China has become cheap and easy to get, and informal mining has mushroomed.
A 2016 report by researchers for the International Institute for Environment and Development estimated a million people in Ghana make a living in what some call artisanal mining, and 4.5 million more depend on it. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to almost 10 million such mine workers, according to a World Bank estimate. At least 60 million more are reliant on the sector.
Read the full special report at www.reuters.com/article/us-gold-africa-poison-specialreport