From a sustainable development perspective, and ultimately from a development perspective, the aspect of mine site rehabilitation is crucial. When you visit a former artisanal gold mining site, but also semi-mechanized and industrial mine site, even if the challenges are sometimes different, you quickly understand how crucial it is.
In West Africa, the mining sites we visited were mostly in the area known as the Sahel. These former mining sites are somewhat lunar looking with huge cavities and protrusions as far as the eye can see. There are a few rare shrubs that try valiantly to survive, the soil is often white, sandy and entirely barren agriculturally. Black or blue plastic bags are spread over these sites, and they will be there for generations to come. In some places, hydrocarbon stains pollute the soil. But it is still the abandoned mining shafts that are the most worrisome. It is not uncommon for animals and even children to fall into them at night.
These, sometimes vast, abandoned mining sites are lacking life. Based on the principles within the “Territorial Approach” that we advocate for at Barksanem™, a mining company that sets up operations in such an area should be part of the solution and the business model should include the “return to life” of these abandoned areas. And in any case, when a mining company sets up on a greenfield site, its specifications should imperatively include the rehabilitation of its site at the time of decommissioning.
Naturally, a mining company alone cannot meet all the challenges of rehabilitating a site. Nevertheless, certain operating procedures would make it possible to see change. These procedures should involve the local communities, the artisanal gold miners, if they are still active in the area and why not the students of the neighboring schools.
This would include, for example, collecting plastic bags that are found all over the ground and processing them in small facilities that create everyday recyclable plastic products (basins, kettles, buckets, etc.). This activity would create a circular economic cycle that provides jobs. Some women’s associations, for example in Burkina Faso, use these plastic bags to make shopping bags or handbags or even sandals! It is also a valuable alternative for pregnant mothers who should not or no longer work in ore crushing.
Another approach would be, from the outset of the mining company’s operations, the creation of a nursery to cultivate species of trees and plants endemic to the region, which would then be replanted throughout the area and finally on abandoned or decommissioned mining areas. Some tree species allow the soil to recover all its mineral qualities, in accordance with adapted, specific procedures from one to three years, and then allow these soils to become arable again. Moreover, such reforestation initiatives create favorable microclimates and limit erosion.
When a mining company, large or small, reaches the end of its activity, it should ensure that the remaining buildings (permanent buildings, water towers, latrines, etc.) can be reintroduced to the local population for alternative economic activities: farming, handcrafts, housing, etc. The company should ensure that these buildings are used as a source of income for the local population. The concrete slabs should be destroyed and the land replanted. All the sites should be thoroughly cleaned, decontaminated and usable in the long term for the territory’s other economic activities.
In our opinion, the rehabilitation of mining sites is an imperative step towards restoring mining operations as a source of “blessing” for the territories of mining countries. Barksanem means “gold is a blessing” in the Moré language of Burkina Faso!