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Story Publication logo April 6, 2023

In Côte d’Ivoire, These Initiatives Bring Life Back to Land Degraded by Gold Panning

A national park in Ivory Coast.

A look at initiatives to rehabilitate land and communities affected by illegal gold mining

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Solutions are found by scientists and social actors to restore land degraded by gold panning and make it cultivable again. Image by Agence Ivoirienne de Presse. Côte d'Ivoire, 2023.

Abidjan, 06 Apr 2023 (AIP)—Illegal gold panning uses highly toxic chemicals that degrade the soil to the point that this land ends up being considered permanently infertile. However, more and more, solutions are being found by scientists and social and community actors in Côte d'Ivoire to restore these lands and make them cultivable again, to the delight of the local populations. The AIP has traveled through some of these initiatives that bring life back to plots degraded by gold panning. 

Friday, March 24, 2023, it is 9:30 a.m. in Kokumbo, a town in the department of Toumodi in the center of Côte d'Ivoire, 219 km from Abidjan. Teacher-researchers, administrative and political authorities and the populations are mobilized for the reforestation project on a former clandestine gold panning site called “Akobo dust”. More than 700 plants of several species including acacia, small cola have been planted on this 1.5 hectare space, in order to bring this land back to life. This long-awaited planting of trees by the populations whose lands have been damaged by clandestine gold panning activities was possible after research work carried out by the team of the project leader, Doctor Jean Kouamé Kan, research professor at Félix Houphouët Boigny University in Cocody.

These results benefited from the support of the Strategic Support Program for Scientific Research (PASRES) to the tune of 6,500,000 francs and from the Development Research Institute (IRD), a French research organization which supported the project up to 4 million FCFA.

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“After backfilling and closing the holes on the site, we plant the trees which will capture and suck up the harmful chemical substances left in the ground after the passage of the clandestine gold miners. They will drop their leaves which will naturally enrich the soil and allow its "re-vegetation", explains the head of the project, the research professor at the Félix Houphouët Boigny University of Cocody, Dr Jean Kouamé.

He promised that in a few years people will again be able to plant cocoa or other crops on this site.

On behalf of PASRES, Zeinab Ouattara underlines that this project perfectly meets the program's roadmap to fund high-quality scientific research projects likely to have a beneficial impact on the socio-economic and cultural development of the Côte d' Ivoire.

David Baratoux, Research Director at the IRD, hoped that after this pilot site, this project would be implemented in other spaces.

The municipal council is committed to perpetuating this reforested site with the competent State services and to prevent it from being recolonized by gold washers.

The Minister Governor of the Autonomous District of Lakes, Raymonde Goudou Coffie, who presided over this tree planting ceremony, congratulated the research team of Doctor Kouamé Kan and the partners who made it possible to achieve innovative solutions that give hope to the whole region.

Project manager Dr. Jean Kouamé Kan has promised that the research professors in Côte d'Ivoire, who are now very mobilized, have the ability to revive all the sites destroyed and damaged by clandestine gold panning throughout the national territory.

In Kokumbo, on October 13, 2022, the dismantling of a clandestine gold panning site in Kokumbo by the special group to fight against illegal gold panning had caused five deaths and several injuries.

Since then, the sub-prefect of Kokoumbo, Rosine Goué Prisca, and the chieftaincy following the national authorities have undertaken actions to restore calm and cohesion, which resulted in the launch of this pilot project.

“Akobo dust”, a former clandestine gold panning site, benefited on Friday March 24, 2023, from a painting of trees, a step in the process of restoring the forest cover of Kokumbo. Image by Agence Ivoirienne de Presse. Côte d'Ivoire, 2023.

Papara's Degraded Lands Restored

Papara, capital of the commune in the department of Tengréla, district of Savanes is a gold-bearing zone par excellence in the North of Côte d'Ivoire, 788 km from Abidjan.

With artisanal mining, and given its high intensity, gold panning has had considerable negative effects on the forest ecosystem, an ecosystem already weakened by other anthropogenic actions and aspects related to climate change.

In their practice, the miners used mercury, which has a particularly devastating effect on the fauna and flora to separate the gold from the ore. They use an average of 1.3 kg of mercury to recover 1 kg of gold.

The consequences are the degradation of croplands and grazing areas, with the corollary of the gradual decline in agro-sylvo-pastoral productivity. This has led people to adopt new survival strategies in order to meet the needs of families: exodus of able-bodied people from the region to the coastal zone, sale of goods, deterioration of morals (theft, begging, etc.).

Women, who represent more than half of the population, are the first to suffer the negative consequences of this situation. As the exodus cannot be a solution for them, they become very vulnerable.

It is in this context that an initiative for the recovery of degraded land and its development was taken by the COGINTA association, through a project to secure gold in Côte d'Ivoire (SECORCI). This project has seen the rehabilitation of several hectares of land damaged by illegal gold panning in this area.

“We have rehabilitated several hectares of land considered lost. Women gathered in an association have planted and harvested eggplants and peppers there,” reveals Hippolyte Sib of the NGO Cognita.

Several methods have been used for the reconstitution of the land, namely machines for major works and certain tasks entrusted to the populations to avoid destroying the trees.

Agents from the mines department and the National Polytechnic Institute Houphouët Boigny (INPHB) provided their expertise for more security.

“They check whether the water table is not affected by the products used, such as cyanide and mercury, to implement this technique. If the water table is affected, it is at this moment that the task becomes complicated. but thank God for the moment, the water table is intact,” confides Mr. Sib.

The representative of the association salute the population of the sub-prefecture of Papara for their collaboration and involvement in the success of the project.

“Today, we can understand that mining and agriculture can succeed each other on the same site,” he says with satisfaction.

Installed in Tengrela since July 2021 for an experimental phase, the COGINTA association has renewed its project for three new years.

The project currently allows the populations of Papara to obtain additional income and to contribute to the improvement of the socio-economic living conditions of the populations in general, and of the vulnerable groups in particular, and to increase the resilience of the populations in the face of changes. climatic.

This initiative made it possible to backfill wells with an average depth of 05 to 10 m and 0.90 m in diameter, which represents 12m 3 per well, to promote food crops (rice, corn, eggplant, pepper, cashew, etc. ) and that of legumes which are part of the traditional diet of local populations. This makes it possible to strengthen local food security with a view to settling farmers on their family estate.

Bobi, the reconverted diamond locality

Women are now confident about their future. Image by Agence Ivoirienne de Presse. Côte d'Ivoire, 2023.

Formerly a stronghold of artisanal diamond mining, the lands of Bobi in the department of Séguéla have been transformed into vast logging (market gardening fields) and fish farming operations.

The project, an initiative of the sub-prefect Kouamé Loukou Eric, saw ecological and community rehabilitation including a dam, irrigation systems, agro-pastoral training and supervision for local communities.

As soon as it took office in 1994, the prefectural authority initiated the “one inhabitant, one hectare of rice” project, which erases the traces of the diamond embargo with its corollary of increased poverty in the area. The action supported by development partners started with 300 volunteers to reach 2,500 people.

The degraded lands have been transformed into vast plantations of market gardeners and cashew crops and fish farms. More than 200 tons were harvested, according to the administrative authority. Today, the locality of Bobi produces 3,000 hectares of rice, 400 hectares of cassava, 45 hectares of peppers and tomatoes and about thirty cooperatives set up. On site, the population is very happy with this project which has changed their lives.

The farmer Dosso Mamadou told the AIP that he manages to produce rice, market gardening, cocoa… Several surrounding villages that are experiencing the same problems are asking for this technique for the rehabilitation of their land degraded by illegal gold panning. An agroforestry project is underway in Kokoumbo, a town sadly affected by illegal gold panning, according to Kouamé Kan Jean, research professor at Félix Houphouët Boigny University and who works with the Institute for Research and Development ( IRD).