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Galamsey in Ghana

Galamsey, derived from the phrase "gather them and sell",[1] is local Ghanaian parlance that means illegal small-scale, gold mining in Ghana.[2] Such workers are known as galamseyers or orpailleurs in neighboring Francophone nations.[3] Galamseyers are people who perform illegal gold mining independent of mining companies, digging small working pits, tunnels, and sluices by hand. Galamsey is also referred to as Illegal Artisanal Small Scale mining (ASM).[4]


Generally, the galamseyers can dig only to a limited depth, far shallower and smaller than commercial mining companies. Under current Ghanaian law, it is illegal for galamseyers to dig on land granted to mining companies as concessions or licenses. Most galamseyers find gold in free metallic dust form or they process oxide or sulfide gold ore using liquid mercury.

The number of galamseyers in Ghana is unknown but believed to be from 20,000 to 50,000, including thousands from China.[5] The Information Minister recently claimed there are now 200,000 people engaged in galamsey, and according to other sources, there are nearly 3 million who rely on it for their livelihoods.[5] They mostly operate in the southern part of Ghana where there are substantial reserves of gold deposits, usually within the environs of the larger mining companies. As a group, they are economically disadvantaged. Galamsey settlements are usually poorer than neighboring agricultural villages. They have high rates of accidents and are exposed to mercury poisoning from their crude processing methods. Many women are among the workers, acting mostly as porters for the miners.

In some cases, galamseyers are the first to discover and work extensive gold deposits before mining companies find out and take over. Galamsey workings are an indicator of the presence of gold.

In the Francophone countries surrounding Ghana, similar local artisanal gold miners are called derailleurs (French pronunciation: [ɔʁpajœʁ]).[3]

Types of galamsey[edit]

Broad galamsey categories[1] Galamsey types Key resource/material use Water relation Comments

1. Placer/alluvial

1. Washing Plant Washing plant/trommel, excavator, mercury, diesel, petrol, and lubricants Operates near water bodies and requires a high volume of clean water for operation Simultaneous mining and gold extraction
2. Washing Board Washing/sluice board, excavator, mercury, diesel, petrol, and lubricants Operates near water bodies and requires a high volume of clean water for operation
3. Anwona or Pit Dredging Pits, Suction Dredge, mercury, mercury, diesel, petrol, and lubricants Operates within mini-pit lakes or mine-out pits and requires water
4. Stream/River Dredging River/Stream, Suction Dredge, mercury, mercury, diesel, petrol, and lubricants Within water bodies with adequate current
5. Dig and Wash Pan, shovels, pick axes, manual, sluice board, mercury In wetland areas, rivers/creeks/streams banks
6. Panning (Poole Poole)

2. Underground mining

7. Abandoned Underground Shafts/Tunnels Shaft, blasting, dewatering, load, and haul of ore Underground/land-locked areas Mining only
8. Sample Hole/Pit or “ghetto” Manually dug out pit, blasting, dewatering, mining

3. Millhouse

9. Mill-house Operation

Chan Fa Engine, Crusher, Smoothing Machine, Retort, Mercury, Hydrocarbons Land-locked areas; near the roadside, within urban centers, or maybe near mining sites Processing only

4. Chamfi/surface operation

10. Chamfi Chan Fa diesel-powered engine, mercury, retort, mercury, diesel, petrol, and lubricants Land-locked areas; either near or far from water bodies, but requires water for operation Simultaneous mining and gold extraction
5. Selection ("pilfering mining") 11. Selection (normally from LSM & Licit ASM sites) Manual selection, Chan Fa, mill house, mortar & pestle/sluice board Land-locked areas; either near or far from water bodies…but requires water for operation Mining only


The major cause of galamsey is unemployment among the youth in Ghana.[6][7] Young university graduates rarely find work, and when they do it hardly sustains them. The result is that these youth go the extra mile to earn a living for themselves and their family. Another factor is the lack of job security.

Ghana's cause of illegal gold mining (Galamsey) is due to bureaucratic licensing regime/weak legal framework, political/traditional leadership failures, and corrupt institutional officials. Moreover, socioeconomic factors and proliferation of foreign miners/mining equipment are causes of the Galamsey.[8]


On 13 November 2009, a collapse occurred in an illegal, privately owned mine in Dompoase, in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. At least 18 workers were killed, including 13 women, who worked as porters for the miners. Officials described the disaster as the worst mine collapse in Ghanaian history [9] while the Appeatse Explosion is the worst mine related disaster in Ghanaian history.[10]

Environmental impact[edit]

Illegal mining damages the land and water supply.[11] In March 2017, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, John Peter Amewu, gave the galamsey operators/illegal miners a three-week ultimatum to stop their activities or be prepared to face the law.[12] The activities by galamseyers have depleted Ghana's forest cover and they have caused water pollution, due to the crude and unregulated nature of the mining process.[13]

Effect of galamsey[edit]

•Students who could have blossomed into scholars of repute, end up underground (in pits) searching for gold.

• The environment encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, weather and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity.

• Galamsey activities expose Ghanaian through drinking and inhaling of gaseous mercury which is absorbed into the blood. Once in the circulatory system, it can pass through the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in the brain damaging the central nervous system. Also, the consumers of pipe-borne water may be consuming small amount of mercury and unknown to public, bits of it could accumulate and give negative effect in the not-too-distant future. Aside those who drink treated water, millions of Ghanaians who live at the bank of river bodies and fetch the raw water which is contaminated with chemicals such as mercury and arsenic for domestic use.[14]

Human impact[edit]

Illegal mining has a detrimental impact in the short term and in the long term on human health. The health challenges resulting from exposure to poisonous chemicals include cancer, mercury poisoning, silica-induced pneumoconiosis, and other respiratory conditions. The run-off water in abandoned pits dug for mining serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Owusu-Nimo, F.; Mantey, J.; Nyarko, K. B.; Appiah-Effah, Eugene; Aubynn, A. (2018-02-01). "Spatial distribution patterns of illegal artisanal small-scale gold mining (Galamsey) operations in Ghana: A focus on the Western Region". Heliyon. 4 (2): e00534. doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2018.e00534. ISSN 2405-8440. PMC 5835009. PMID 29511743.
  2. ^ Danquah, David Yaw (2019-06-26). "Mining Of Gold In Ghana Overview - Energy and Natural Resources - Ghana". www. Monday. com. Retrieved 2021-05-15.
  3. ^ a b "ORPAILLEUR: Définition de ORPAILLEUR". www.cnrtl.fr. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  4. ^ Mantey, J.; Owusu-Nimo, F.; Nyarko, K. B.; Aubynn, A. (2017-01-01). "Operational dynamics of "Galamsey" within eleven selected districts of the western region of Ghana". Journal of Mining and Environment. 8 (1): 11–34. doi:10.22044/jme.2016.627. ISSN 2251-8592.
  5. ^ a b Burrows, Edward; Lucia Bird (2017-05-30). "Gold, guns and China: Ghana's fight to end galamsey". African Arguments. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  6. ^ Gracia, Zindzy (2018-01-31). "Causes and effects of galamsey in Ghana". Yen.com.gh - Ghana news. Retrieved 2020-01-11.
  7. ^ Agbesi, Kelly Michael (2017-05-17). "Galamsey menace: Causes, effects, and solutions". www.ghanaweb.com. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  8. ^ Ampaw, Enock Mintah; Chai, Junwu; Jiang, Yuguo; Dumor, Koffi; Edem, Amouzou Koffi (June 2023). "Why is Ghana losing the war against illegal gold mining (Galamsey)? An artificial neural network-based investigations". Environmental Science and Pollution Research International. 30 (29): 73730–73752. doi:10.1007/s11356-023-27265-x. ISSN 1614-7499. PMID 37195613.
  9. ^ "Women die in Ghana mine collapse". BBC News. 2009-11-12. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  10. ^ "Ghana blast: Many feared dead after huge explosion near Bogoso". BBC News. 2022-01-21. Retrieved 2022-10-03.
  11. ^ Ansah, Marian Efe (2017-03-22). "Galamsey, pollution destroying water bodies in Ghana - Water Company". Ghana News. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  12. ^ Allotey, Godwin Akweiteh (2017-03-29). "Stop galamsey in 3 weeks or face the law - Amewu". Ghana News. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  13. ^ Gyekye, Joyce. "MD of Ghana Water Company Limited says fight against galamsey is being lost". Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  14. ^ "Galamsey menace: Causes, effects and solutions". GhanaWeb. 2017-05-17. Retrieved 2023-08-02.
  15. ^ Etefe, Juliet (2023-05-08). "Time for action – galamsey is having serious effects on our environment, and communities". The Business & Financial Times. Retrieved 2023-08-02.

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