By Mustapha Manneh
The Gambia limited mining industry is facing unprecedented exploitation with more investors cashing in on the country’s lucrative minerals.
Sand mining is witnessing an exponential rise absorbing more naturally endowed areas across the countrys coastal belt with use of sand for construction, road building and other infrastructural developments growing annually.
In the past, sand mining sand and other mineral extraction was mainly carried out in coastal villages but new zones closer to the capital are being taken up for mining including a major investment by a new in at Banjuls Denton bridge.
A leading mining company in The Gambia Carnegie Corporation Limited (CCl) an Australian company in a joint venture with Astron Ltd of China were issued a license to mine mineral sand deposits in Batokunku, Kartong, Sanyang, and Brufut during the former regime.
“One of the biggest challenges we are facing when it comes to sand mining is destruction of farmlands. kartongs landscape is surrounded by water making some areas impossible to farm because of saltwater”. Isatou Manneh a gardener from Kartong bemoans the limited spaces Available for families to grow food and vegetables.
According to Isatou, the sand dune area where gardening is conducted has been largely reclaimed by mining operation leading to significant damages.
“When it rains, farming becomes impossible because of the water. We only work in those areas during the dry season. The mining didn’t only damage our gardening area, it also destroyed the entire fencing, which cost us lots of money to build”.
Sand mining churns millions of profits for investors and traders but the activity hardly benefits locals.
“Economically sand mining has no benefit for us and it only destroys our livelihood, the trade has brought lots of social challenges for us in Kartong, and Kartong been below sea level makes it an even bigger issue”. Isatou added explaining how sand mining has broken down their social fabric with increasing rift and conflicts between familys against the activity and those who support mining.
The vegetable farmer urged the government to look into more into innovative solutions to mitigate the industries growing environmental destruction.
Statistical reports estimate the measure of resources at Batokunku, Kartong and Sanyang to be 18.8 million metric tons (mt) containing about 1 mt of heavy minerals at a cut-off grade of 1%.
Gunjur based Environmentalists Lamin Jassey laments the destruction caused by sand mining as a major challenge to local livelihoods in the coastal town where land belong to Families and community clans.
‘The first sand mining activities happened in an area where women use for gardening’.
Lamin admits that ‘some families indeed benefit from sand mining. A family of Gunjur has been compensated by Unity mining with some cash before the start of mining. Mining has caused immense division within the family” Jassey stated.
In the past only close government associates were involved in mining and landowners derived no financial benefit as all their lands were reclaimed.
Jassey says “It’s difficult to fight mining in Gunjur because some families benefit even though the money they receive cannot compare to what is extracted during mining, which has destroyed the areas landscape and destroyed women’s gardens and horticultural spaces.’
“Women are usually the victims of mining because they have limited understanding when it comes to the activity. Mining increases poverty because it has taken away women’s livelihood”. In this part of the Gambia, school fees, clothes, and food are provided from the money generated from the gardens.’
Another report estimates the heavy-mineral assemblage in the sector mining as 71% ilmenite, 15% zircon, 3% rutile, and 11% of other mineral reserves (Carnegie Corporation ltd., 2005, p. 7-9; industrial minerals, 2005a, b).
Government agencies have themselves conflict with miners in regards to mining in the buffer-zone. Tourism Development Areas have been quickly swallowed by mining undermining efforts to promote tourism.
Sand is a valuable resource in the Gambia and the country can’t go without it, yet if mining continues at this rate, the country could be left with major deficits in crucial mineral deposits. Two mining companies operating in Gunjur alone alongside small scale activities.
Mr Jassey thinks Government should learn from best practice in other countrys to boost environmental sustainability promoting minimal use of sand for housing infrastructure. Mining has been taking place in coastal communities for more than two decades and has hardly transformed the socioeconomic situation of the local people.
In 2015, a young primary school student drowned at a Kartong mining quarry after a dangerous zone was left unprotected. In November 2015, the community of Kartong clashed with the paramilitary over protests against sand mining that led to the arrest of more than 40 people who were later charged and acquitted by the Brikama Magistrates court.