Ghana’s mining sector has been very vibrant since the country’s pre-colonial era. For instance, it is said that the country accounted for 36% of the total world output of gold between 1493 and 1600. The minerals and mining sector currently contributes about 16% of government’s revenue in terms of domestic tax and has consistently been the country’s highest gross foreign exchange earner for several years.
The country has, in the past however, focused all its attention and resources on the major minerals currently mined in the country viz. gold, diamond, manganese and bauxite. Although mineral deposits such as iron ore, limestone, quartz, salt, kaolin, mica, brown clays, silica sand etc. are known to exist in the country, these have all been left unexploited or at best under-exploited. According to estimates by Ghana’s Minerals Commission, the country’s identified iron ore deposits stands in excess of 1.62bn tonnes.
In February 2016, the country launched a Minerals and Mining Policy which “provides a written declaration of the framework of principles and policies that will guide Government in the management of the mining and minerals sector”. It also seeks to provide for the establishment of an enabling environment for investors, which is based upon modern regulatory arrangements and attractive terms. Ghana is currently among three African countries to develop a comprehensive policy in the mining sector.
The policy document rightly identifies over-reliance on the exploitation of the traditional minerals as one of the challenges which needs to be addressed in order to position the minerals and mining industry to remain internationally competitive, whilst at the same time ensuring that the expected benefits due the state, communities and investors are realised. It also observes that the diversification of the country’s mineral production base is one of the objectives that will enable the Government to secure the continued development of a thriving mining industry that contributes to a sustainable economic development.
The government acknowledges in the policy document that if it is to secure the maximum benefits from the mineral resources in the country, now is the time to pay the much needed attention to the “lesser known minerals”. Particular mention is made of solar salt and base metals such as Copper, Zinc, Nickel and Chrome.
The policy for the diversification of the mineral production base is outlined in three areas in the following terms:
Ghana’s comparative advantage over its West African neighbours in solar salt production stem from the favourable geographical, climate and environmental conditions. Thus, it is Government’s policy to secure the continued development of an efficient and thriving salt industry that will extract all possible co-products from the production process and generate supplies for domestic as well as raw material needs of appropriate local and regional industries.
It is also expected that the salt industry will facilitate and accelerate the development of our oil fields as well as the downstream petroleum industry. The salt industry will also support the proposed integrated bauxitealumina industry, and the agriculture, food and beverage, water and textile sub-sectors.
2. Base Metals
As part of Government’s periodic review of the country’s mineral resource base, results of recent exploration work done have shown occurrences of base metals such as Copper, Zinc, Nickel, and Chrome in some parts of the country. Further exploration of these deposits and others identified to determine their economic viability.
3. Other Minerals
Unexploited deposits of iron ore, limestone, brown clays, kaolin, mica, columbite-tantalite, feldspar, silica sand, quartz, dimension stones also exist. As energy generation and other infrastructure are improved, advantage will be taken of their existence to facilitate the exploitation and development of such deposits”
The focus on these minerals is in the right direction, as they have the potential to provide the country with high revenues in the sector. For example, Ghana is mainly surrounded by countries which have a high demand for salt for both domestic and industrial use but without the right climatic conditions and suitable lands for its production. Nigeria alone is estimated to import over $1.5billion worth of salt each year from far away Brazil and Australia to feed its domestic demands and feed its oil industry. This is a market the country can easily capitalize on with the least attention to the salt industry. Other countries in the West African sub region and beyond are also potential markets.
Also to achieve one of the objectives of the policy, which is to promote linkages of mineral production to other sectors of the economy, the focus of the country should not only be to exploit these minerals for export purposes but to also consider them for use in other areas of the economy taking into consideration their many and varied uses and the strive of the country to become an industrialized nation.
Finally with the slump in commodity prices in recent years, if the mining sector is to maintain its role as a leading contributor to the development of the economy of Ghana through foreign exchange, tax revenue and employment, it is time a great deal of attention is given to these unexploited and underexploited minerals. The country has indeed restricted itself far too long to the exploitation of the traditional minerals to the neglect of the others.
It is hoped that this policy will not merely remain on the shelves of the ministry of Lands and Natural Resources but active steps will be taken to ensure the realization of this goal.