In February the United States Forest Service and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered with the Guinean Association Mines Sans Pauvreté (Mines without Poverty) to organize a West African mining and environment study tour. The tour brought together 30 representatives from mining companies, government agencies, civil society organizations, academic institutions, media and communities from Guinea, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire for five days of dialogue and field visits in the Nimba landscape on the border of Guinea and Liberia (see map).
Participants departed with a deeper understanding of the effects of mining on communities and biodiversity. They also learned from one another’s experiences and shared best practices for environmentally and socially sound mining.
Study tour participants connected directly with mining communities to understand the impact mining has on their daily lives and livelihoods and to discuss solutions to the challenges they heard.
The ceremony was formally opened by Mr. Jean Smith Sandy, Director of Cabinet, on behalf of the Governor of N’Zerekore. Mr. Sandy advised participants to offer their best during the tour as it was an opportunity for countries to adopt best practices in protecting the ecosystems of the landscape. For him many live in sensitive and fragile environments, hence the recommendations arising from the event would influence a change in behaviors in environmental management in the interest and safety of the people around the area and for future generations.
Bringing together senior level officials from all the three MRU Member States to deliberate on the threats that mining activities have on the conservation of the biodiversity, environment and health and safety of the human population, participants emphasized the importance of such a tour in sharing information and demanding from mining companies to uphold best and environmentally friendly and people-centered mining practices within the Nimba Landscape in particular and beyond.
Following an enthusiastic participation by all the participants during the opening ceremony, the team commenced the rest of the event with a day out with an early stage mining (exploration) development area managed by Guinea Iron Mining Company (SMFG). At this site, the group was taken around the exploration site at the top of Mount Nimba, where the team got to understand the measures used by the company to reduce sediment pollution and the restoration of the completed exploration sites.
Other practices that attracted the interest of participants was the company’s solid waste sorting center, the orchid shade house where they collect creeping plants and the bio-cube where liquid waste is treated and discharged into a lagoon before evacuating in nature. Participants, impressed by the company’s relationships with communities and employees, ethics and standards concluded that the it was people-centered and exemplary and should be a benchmark for other similar companies.
After leaving the exploration mine the group visited IREB[EA1] to understand more about existing biodiversity challenges confronting a chimpanzee reserve and surrounding communities around a mine concession. The trip was also to learn more about community participation in forest governance and decision-making on environmental and reforestation initiative in the chimpanzee corridor.
A compelling outcome was a community request for the Conservation and Mining organization working in their landscape to talk together and agree on issues amongst yourselves before coming to engage the community in the partnership. The team then continued their visit to an abandoned mine on Mount Nimba not reclaimed and restored. This really gave most participants a firsthand feel of mining impact on the environment and how expensive it is to restore closed mine. In this case, since the government has no available resources for reclamation and restoration the mine is now protected and used for tourism.
The group then went on to spend the rest of the mission with communities around an active mine, where the team held plenary and focus group engagements with people within the mining concession. The aim of the visit was to observe and understand from the people their experiences and quality of life and relations between the people and the mining company.
From the discussions, communities acknowledged their appreciation of the different training packages and scholarship provided to the youth, and the introduction of conservation agricultural farm practices to some farmers. However, one of the communities around the mining concession emphasized the lack of inclusion in decisions that affect them and concluded with an appeal to the company in question and to the visiting team to help improve the relationship between the communities and the mining company. This then led the team to a concluding session where participants discussed the lessons and action points for a way forward at the national and transboundary levels.
According to the participants the whole experience was amazing, this was clear from the dedication, hard work and active participation, whiles sustaining their interest throughout the trip. Participants closed the event with a call on the organizers to organize the event annually or at least bi-annually.
U.S. Forest Service, through its ongoing program in the Mt. Nimba landscape, aims to improve forest condition and management by increasing the involvement of local communities and will continue to partner with local stakeholders toward this end.