CAROLINE International Fellowship Project

Project Location

Development of Time Robust Geospatial Information for Enhancing Sustainable Mining in Northwest Ghana



This project aims to develop local-level geo-information for modelling and enhancing sustainable mineral resource development; empower local communities, local and central governments and other stakeholders. Mineral resource-rich developing countries, plagued with growing populations and food security issues, recognize the prospects of a mining sector-led economic diversification. However, mineral resource development decisions are mostly taken in these countries without understanding the environmental, economic and social realities on the ground. Regulatory acts and standard practices are policy measures that are used to supervise activities of the extractive industry. Even so, the applicability of these measures is weak in developing countries due to a dearth of geographic information, especially at local levels. This phenomenon obscures identification of sustainability issues posed by exploration and extraction in remote areas. Besides, without such data, it is difficult to develop comprehensive mediation tools for an intuitive grant of social license for resource extraction. Hence, this project shall use systems engineering approach to develop five major land use categories based on physical and socioeconomic factors. A case study shall be conducted at Ghana’s emerging northwest gold province, to develop elementary geographic data for considerations in sustainable mining. Findings shall contribute towards addressing the challenges of district assemblies in respect of relevant spatial data generation for natural resource management; and evidence-based resource development constraints and opportunities in the landscape. Findings of the study shall also contribute to the core objectives of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2030 of the UN.




To this end, this project aims to build, harmonize, and improve baseline geographic information for monitoring the sustainable operations of large-scale, artisanal small-scale (ASM) and low value minerals and mining (LVMM) sectors in a regional and policy context. To achieve this aim, the project specifically seeks to: develop and collate current land-use conditions and prognosis to prepare thematic maps in a regional perspective; characterize development patterns in a local outlook to delineate mineral resource development opportunities and potential negative effects linked with the landscape; integrate environmental and socioeconomic considerations at regional, district and village levels with the mining sector planning to understand how to address questions of data fragmentation and integrity; develop geographic information to meet land ownership issues, planning, policy formulation, and land use decision making needs of the study region and; examine where and under what circumstances mining is an appropriate land use and how (or even if) it can contribute to environmentally and socially responsible development at the local level.




Mineral resource-rich developing countries, plagued by high population growth rates and growing food security issues, have recognized the benefits of a mining sector-led economic diversification. The industry establishes itself to be indispensable in the socioeconomic development of many countries. However, mineral resource extraction, whether precious metals or low-value minerals and mining (LVMM), is linked with local land use displacements, environmental impacts, and deepening economic failure. It can always be assumed that the social and environmental impacts of the extractive industry activities are inevitable, especially in new areas of the industry’s activities. For this reason, in recent times sustainability issues in the extractive sector are on the rise globally and intense in developing countries. There is a growing community conscience about their future economic alternatives, values and aspirations, which is instigated by civil organisations and development partners that are against mineral resource extraction. Therefore, modern day best practice in resource extraction calls for social, economic and environmental base-line analysis that can sustain meaningful negotiations, social stability, environmental equilibrium, and economic growth, especially, in emerging local areas.


However, little is done in a regional perspective to provide policymakers and other stakeholders with evidence-based landscape development constraints and prospects for enhancing sustainable mining in local areas. This phenomenon is attributed to the dearth of geospatial data at local levels, making it difficult to: (1) understand the threats posed by mining in remote areas; (2) also identify potential synergies between the industry and local initiatives. To this end, this project seeks to undertake inventories, build basic Geographic Information for enhancing the responsible development and use of mineral resource distribution in local space in Ghana.


Mining is a key sector in Ghana’s economy, contributing 46% of total exports revenue in 2016. Large-scale gold mining ranks Ghana among the world’s top ten gold producers and second in Africa. In Africa, Ghana is among the top five producers of key minerals including gold, bauxite, manganese, diamonds and aluminium. Other mineral deposits yet to be tapped include copper, uranium, graphite, sand and clay; largely in the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone (NSEZ). The emerging northwest mining region of Ghana is in this zone. Thus, this project focuses on the emerging northwest gold province of Ghana, which is the second poorest and most vulnerable region in the country. Although mining offers a potential to raise the profile of livelihood and integrated rural development in the NSEZ regions, its contribution to sustainable development has become a focal point in the area. The premonition is due to a lack of intuitive, accurate thematic maps for collaborative land use planning in local areas; to guide mining, quarrying and land use objectives in a sustainable development drive. This challenge is a reflection of the state of the nation in terms of mineral resource development.


Research Methods


Sustainability in the extractive sector activities may be optimized using systems engineering approach that simultaneously considers economic, environmental and social factors. With the level of detail and accuracy required to address knowledge gaps in sustainable mineral resource development, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools shall be integrated to collect both spatial and aspatial (qualitative) data for analysis. Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools shall be used for spatial data collection and analysis. Datasets shall be developed on socioeconomic and biophysical parameters for analysis. Socioeconomic factors include on-site, adjacent and customary land uses. Biophysical factors to consider include climate and topography. Cadastral and thematic maps, mining leases, and climate data will be acquired from District Assemblies, Minerals Commission of Ghana, and Ghana Meteorological Agency to establish ground sites and parameters for analysis. Digital Elevation Model (DEM) shall be used to compute topographic parameters. These parameters shall enforce articles 6, 11, and 15 of the United Nations Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. Primary Spatial data shall be collected through field surveys using handheld GPS and local knowledge from sampled communities. Multi-temporal satellite imagery shall be acquired for digital landscape mapping and environmental analysis.


Aspatial data collection involves focus group discussions; to learn the land use objectives of natives, with or without mining, in the area. This process establishes a feedback mechanism for sustainable mining and for modifying field data to ensure maximum accuracy. It also enhances the participation of women and girls in discussions on sustainable development processes required of the extractive sector. Another advantage of this PRA approach is that existing and future land-use objectives of communities can be inventoried and adequately mapped through informed members and ground truthing. Access to the field for ground truthing requires the consent of the communities. However, the PRA method is time consuming and labour-intensive. To address this challenge, I will moderate group discussions; clarify issues, and coordinate mapping for proper time and labour management. This is the first project to adapt such tools to the circumstances of the poorer northwest communities in Ghana, where mining is an emerging land use activity; and is impacted by public policy decisions in respect of sustainable rural livelihoods. Extensive literature survey and expert knowledge shall be pursued alongside.




This project shall contribute towards addressing the communication challenges of local governments regarding spatial data generation and analysis in mineral and other resource management. Therefore, the project’s findings will enhance guidelines for sustainable mineral resource development. It shall provide indicators for sustainability performance and environmental regulations in the project area. These indicators shall be especially relevant for the industry players, public organisations and regulatory agencies. Site selection for new exploration and mining proposals is crucial for both companies and local communities and local government sector planning. Therefore, findings of the project shall enhance proper spatial planning within approved zones; a framework for integrated planning at the district and community levels. This would help to reduce avoidable displacements and resettlement risks; public concern, and save companies operating costs from conflict delays. The findings of the project could also be used as indicators for regional population modelling, environmental and social impact assessments in the area. It shall also offer an opportunity in the fields of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Civil and Mining Engineering, Geography, Development and Planning to extend future researches into developing suitable models for mineral resource development at the minimum environmental and social cost. Most importantly, findings of the project would support the objectives of the overarching themes of global sustainable development as set out under the United Nations 2030 Agenda for shared economic prosperity, social development, and environmental protection.

Home Host Institution: University College Dublin (UCD)


Main Mentor: Prof. Michela Bertolotto


Secondment Host Organisations: United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva (UNEP-GRID, Geneva); EnviroSPACE - University of Geneva (UNiGE)


Secndment Mentor: Mr. David Jensen


UNiGE Supervisor: Dr. Pierre Lacriox

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 713279

Fieldwork Summary

The first round of fieldwork was carried out from 07.12.2018 to 20.02.2019 successfully. It all started with Community Outreach and collection of secondary and existing data from public authorities such as the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMA) and Ghana Statistical Service (GSS).

Then, community entry processes followed. This is the most important and yet difficult part of the fieldwork. To obtain the consent and access to communities, we started with the community entry processes; identifying and locating sample communities ( 10 in number; purposviely spread across current exploration and drilling sites in the Upper West Region (UWR) of Ghana). Strategically, the sample communities are located in the Wa East, Nadowli-Kaleo, Jirapa, Lawra, Nandom and Lambussie-Karni Districts.

The entry all starts with approaching the assembly member of a community, who in turn leads us to the chiefs and opinion leaders of the community. Opinion leaders include the elders, youth leaders and women leaders (queen mother) of each community. Wherever the assemblyman was not available, for the sake of proper time management, we moved straight to the chief, who in turn would mobilise the opinion leaders and other important members of the community for their acceptance. 

At the sample communities where entry was permitted, we basically started with an outreach; introducing the purpose (aims and objectives) of the study and identifying the needs and values of the community. 

Apart from the sample communities, a transect was also conducted around the whole of the UWR to map landcover features and land use types. This activity requires a lot of logistics and time. It took several days to transect the whole region, sometimes on motorbikes especially in remote areas with only footpath access.

A stand alone community outreach programme was conducted at Yagha in the Jirapa District. This community has a well organised end of year events that gathers both near and far members of the community. On this occasion, there were present alot of community 'owned' scholars and experienced public sector workers who shared vital ideas that are inevitable to the objectives of this project. Most of the settlements of the Yagha community are under large-scale mining and exploration concessions.

Outreach presentations were also delivered at the Northern Patriots in Research & Advocacy (NORPRA), headquartered at Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region (UER) of Ghana; and level 100 BSc. students of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR), Sunyani, Ghana.

Overall, the first round of fieldwork was really fufilling. We hope to achieve more in the next round. In this round, there shall be no community entry process. However, there will be lots of landcover mapping and Community Outreach activities.

Chief of the community on sight, flanked by his abled elders and opinion leaders

Geometric Registration of Landcover/Land Use Types

Landcover mapping during fieldwork. Various landcover features identified include: compound farms, farmlands, grass cover, tree cover (mostly Shea), baregrounds, settled areas, ponds and dams, seasonal streams and rivers, forests, outcropped and protruding rocks and bolders. Major Land use activities identified include farming, quarrying (Low Values Mineral Mining (LVMM) i.e. sand quarrying, gravel digging for road construction, and stone picking/digging), logging and fruit picking.

Samples of Landcover types in the study area

Landcover mapping

Gravel Quarrying Pits (abandoned and existing)

Stone Quarry Pits

Outreach Presentation at Concerned Earth (a local NGO)

IRC Presentation

IRC Presentations Series, 2019

Extractives For Development Special Presentation, University of Surrey

Potential Ramifications of Illegal Mining in Northwest Ghana