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University of Bath

Mapping opportunities for improving the environmental sustainability of gold mining in Sierra Leone

This study will use an empirical approach to understanding the environmental impacts of the mining sector and propose more potentially sustainable solutions.

Woman breastfeeding sat next to another woman panning for gold
Artisanal gold mining impacts all aspects of local life

Over the past two decades, mineral-rich sub-Saharan Africa has been transformed by the growth of informal artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM); low tech, labour-intensive mineral extraction and processing that employs rudimentary tools, and has low barriers to entry for poor people. While the livelihood benefits of the ASM sector are largely undisputed, policies and programmes aimed at minimising its environmental footprint have to date had limited success.

This project will focus on the case of Sierra Leone; a country with one of the largest and most dynamic ASM economies in sub-Saharan Africa. The study will:

  • generate much-needed data on the environmental impacts of the sector
  • deepen understanding of how ecosystems services and dependent livelihoods are impacted by its activities
  • propose more tangible, empirically grounded solutions capable of facilitating the sustainability of the sector

The project brings together an experienced interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Bath, who will work closely with Sierra Leonean communities, researchers and policymakers. They will facilitate the co-production of knowledge, and ensure that the research findings will directly inform strategies to formalise the ASM sector while simultaneously reducing environmental impacts.

The project will engage a diverse range of stakeholders, establishing new relationships between all project partners, and building an international academic collaboration around research on sustainable natural resource management and development. This will be the first step in galvanising an interdisciplinary extractive industry research hub at Bath, and will lay the foundation for the submission of a major research bid to the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to follow.

Project outputs

Policy engagement workshop in Sierra Leone

Invited participants will include individuals from:

  • relevant Government of Sierra Leone Ministries
  • the National Minerals Agency
  • the Environmental Protection Agency
  • the donor community (the World Bank and GIZ)
  • NGOs
  • academics from the University of Sierra
  • the UN Agency
  • UNITAR (presently putting Sierra Leone’s National Action Plan together under the UN Minamata Convention to combat Mercury)

Co-authored journal article

This will synthesise research findings and be submitted to a leading peer-reviewed journal in the field of geography, development studies or environmental sciences.

Development of a major Global Challenge Research Fund proposal

Dr Roy Maconachie, Dr Lee Bryant, Dr Thomas Kjeldsen and research colleagues at Fourah Bay College, have already been in discussion about a possible larger funding proposal that would focus on mining livelihoods, ecosystems services environmental change. The partnerships formed and the data generated in the project would directly inform this process.

Research hub

We aim to complete the first step towards the establishment of an interdisciplinary research hub at Bath. This will focus on the extractive industries and development.

Dr Roy Maconachie is currently working to establish a new research cluster based in the Department of Social & Policy Sciences, which will draw in scholars from other departments, including Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies, the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society in the School of Management, and most notably, researchers in the Water Innovation and Research Centre, where Maconachie, Bryant and Kjeldsen are all on the Management Board.

The proposed study will be a vital step in bringing social scientists and natural scientists together to work on this emerging research area. In the summer of 2019, Professor Anthony Bebbington (Clark University, USA) has been appointed as Global Chair to help galvanise this emerging research cluster.

Project team

  • Dr Roy Maconachie, Department of Social & Policy Sciences, University of Bath
  • Dr Lee Bryant, Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, University of Bath
  • Dr Thomas Kjeldsen, Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, University of Bath
  • Dr Solomon Gbanie, Department of Geography, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone
  • Mr Kabba Bangura, Department of Geography, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone
  • Mr Anthony Koroma, Department of Physics, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone

Preliminary work and fieldwork design

During this initial phase of the project, the research team will undertake preliminary desk-based analysis, reviewing existing academic material on the environmental impacts of artisanal mining, synthesising grey literature and analysing key policy documents.

The team will also refine the research methodology and the fieldwork design will be fine-tuned. With assistance from the Fourah Bay College researchers, research sites will be selected and the questionnaire survey instrument will be designed.

Fieldwork and data collection

University of Bath researchers will travel to Sierra Leone early in January 2019 to begin the fieldwork with the team at Fourah Bay College (FBC). An initial one day methodology/training workshop will be held at FBC, before the team travels to Lake Sonfon to begin the work. Research sites will be visited and initial engagement with communities will take place.

The questionnaire survey instrument will be piloted with a stratified sample population, and adjusted if necessary. The team will also begin initial focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews with a diverse range of community stakeholders.

At this point, soil and water sampling along the research transect will also commence. The FBC research team will return to the five sites each month for the following five months, to continue collecting the quantitative and qualitative data.

Review and dissemination

In the final phase of the project, University of Bath researchers will return to Sierra Leone for one week to hold a multi-stakeholder workshop in Freetown and undertake further engagement with government officials and policy makers.

The data generated in the study will be combined in a system analysis tool to identify the impacts of the environmental and production factors of ASM on water quality and corresponding ecosystem services of the downstream water bodies. We will make this tool available to Sierra Leone’s Environmental Protection Agency, so that the work will continue to have impact beyond the life of the project.

This final phase will also provide an ideal opportunity to work closely with the FBC team on the draft publication and the larger GCRF research proposal. The team will keep working on both of these outputs over the summer of 2019, and both will be submitted by 1 September 2019.