Impact Story from Nigeria: Policymakers Engagement on Artisanal Gold Mining

By Grace Idowu Awosanmi and Deepa Pullanikkatil

Dr Sola Ajayi, a Professor of Agricultural Science in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, got interested in agriculture through his experiences and observations growing up in a farming community. He is now the Director of the Nigerian hub of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network, a global network comprising members from the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana. “Being auniversity teacher and a Professor of Agriculture gave me the desire to understand communities in a holistic manner,” says Ajayi. “I look at the issue of community development more than just that of agriculture because I know that the development of communities is a result of so many interwoven factors. This was my attraction for joining SFA.”

Since 2014, Ajayi has been researching the nexus between artisanal gold mining and agriculture. He has conducted several field visits and partnered with other universities (notably Goethe University in Germany and Murdoch University in Australia) on issues relating to mining, community relationships and social engagement. So at the inaugural SFA meeting in Botswana in 2016, where hub countries were offered seed grants and asked to come up with projects, Ajayi presented the idea of ‘Prioritizing developmental needs in agrarian and mining communities’. The research question was: What is the priority for artisanal mining communities in the face of limited resources? A variety of methods were used by Ajayi and his interdisciplinary team, which included Prof. Akande from Adult Literacy and Lifelong Education and Prof. Torimiro from Agricultural Sociology.

Ajayi recalls, “As we progressed, there came an escalation in the problem of artisanal mining per se, which also extended to both my immediate environment at Ile-Ife and to the community where I was born. The issue of artisanal mining in Nigeria spiralled to become a security issue that was also threatening the social fabric of communities where these issues were taking place. Therefore we decided to narrow it down and then look at it in context.”

Prof Sola Ajayi meeting with youth

Mining in Itagunmodi

About a year after the start of the SFA project, the government of Nigeria came up with the idea of changing its developmental paradigm to focus on agriculture and mining. They wanted to reduce the dependence of the Nigerian economy on oil, targeting other aspects of the economy instead. This prompted the SFA team to ask, “If the government considers mining and agriculture to hold the key to economic diversification, why are the communities where these activities take place poor?”

Their interest in this question led them to the village of Igbojaye, located in Oyo State.  The community is strategically located within a strongly traditional institutional environment. Itagunmodi is less than 20 km from Ile-Ife, which is regarded as the source/origin of the Yoruba race. However, with the rise of mining and the influx of migrants it brought to the area, the Itagunmodi Kabiyesi (king) had been displaced and had to leave the community. The Yorubas are predominantly farmers, traders and learned people. Therefore, migrants from the north of the country came for the jobs, displacing the original members of the community. Two in every three occupants of the community is a migrant Northerner who does not speak the local language. Prof Ajayi recalls an instance in Itagunmodi when the Jumat prayer was spoken in the migrants’ language. “The migrants were no longer learning the native language. Rather the few natives that were there were learning the language of the migrant miners. We also saw a shift in the kinds of business activities, in the kinds of food in circulation, culture and even the music played on the street. All these no longer reflected the culture of the people.” It was alarming to the locals that Itagunmodi was now being taken over by people of another tribe, and it was seen which was now a major security concern.

As tensions rose in Itagunmodi, Prof. Ajayi spoke with various concerned parties, including the Honourable Commissioner for Environment and Community Leaders and Traditional Rulers, the Deputy Governor of the State and the Chief of Staff of the State. The Chief of Staff was very glad that the SFA team had come to provide research-based perspectives and to draw the government’s attention to the issue, and eventually some of the information they provided led to the convening of a security meeting.

Ajayi also spoke to the Commissioner of Police for Osun State, who was not aware of the security implication nor that the situation had degenerated so much. The Commissioner later informed Ajayi that there would be a Security Summit, which was widely covered in the national dailies. Ajayi also spoke to a very significant and influential indigenous personality, who is presently the Director-General of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (and was previously Nigeria’s ambassador to Australia), whom he had met during a research project collaboration. This led to the SFA group being put in charge of mining-related issues for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

At that time, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, a group tasked with the sustainable development of the predominantly Yoruba-speaking southwest region, asked the SFA hub to prepare a presentation that would inform the policy of the commission on the issue of mining and artisanal mining. Ajayi is happy that through SFA, he has been able for the first time to engage with policy makers and provide empirical evidence that can form the opinions and positions of both government and traditional institutions. He says, The goal of the project is not just research. The way I understand it, research is not an end in SFA, research is a means to an end and the end is the development of the community. We want to facilitate development not just as an academic exercise but as a daily experiential activity. So research is only a component of it to the extent that it serves to provide solutions, understanding and index analysis that will bring out solutions to problems. The development will involve members of the community, whether they are natives or migrants. Everyone that lives, everyone that transacts, everyone that has a stake in the community is a stakeholder so they need to be actively engaged. It will involve regulatory authorities, government authorities, traditional institutions and the people. It is important to engage people since the facilitation of development is something that can not be done alone.”


FROM LILONGWE TO GLASGOW: CRAFTING A CAREER PATH

Stewart Paul had just finished college when he attended the 2017 SFA Symposium in Botswana. “I graduated on Wednesday, and on Sunday I flew to Botswana,” he recalls. “It was my first international trip”. In fact, he’d applied for an express passport in order to attend. Having missed two international trips while studying for his undergraduate degree, he was determined not to miss this one. “During the Symposium I could sense that there was a lot of excitement,” Stewart says. “Here was a group of people from various backgrounds, from various disciplines, from various geographical locations, from various academic and professional backgrounds, coming together to discuss things that affect Africa.”

He had heard about the SFA Network through Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, co-founder of Abundance, an organisation Stewart volunteers with. She nominated him to get invited to come to Botswana and make a presentation on environmental degradation, particularly deforestation, and Malawi’s potential in that area. Stewart prepared carefully for his presentation, the first he’d ever made to an international audience. It was extremely well received, but Stewart insists the credit should go to Dr Pullanikkatil, SFA’s co-director, and Dr Boyson Moyo, director of the Malawi hub. “I came in with some input and made the actual presentation, but I would say 90% of the input came from these two. I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity, and I’m glad it went well. It was good for my confidence, and to receive such feedback was a morale-booster for me.”

Later that year, Stewart’s SFA involvement led to a role in a study conducted by Dr Nader Karimi of the University of Glasgow. The project examined the types and amounts of biomass energy available to rural and urban people in Malawi and Kenya. Together with Renew’n’Able, a Malawian NGO, Stewart and his Abundance colleagues collected data throughout five districts: Lilongwe, Dowa, Dedza, Machinga and Zomba. The findings showed that firewood was the most commonly used energy source, followed by charcoal. Both fuels emit dark, carbon-heavy smoke, posing a health risk; most of the respondents reported respiratory problems. As well as a health issue, Stewart explains that this is a gender issue – most cooking in Malawi is done by women – as well as an environmental issue, with pressure being placed on communal forests and bushes to provide fuel. Stewart says that this “contributes to the degradation of land as a resource, as well as the forests and the bushes and the entire ecosystem.” Throughout the study, respondents consistently expressed a willingness to switch to alternative sources of energy, but they report having no alternatives. The findings from this study forms the basis for a proposal that is being developed to impact positively and provide solutions to the energy crisis Malawi faces.

His work on that project had benefits for Stewart’s personal and professional development. By managing a team of researchers, he says he was able to exercise his leadership skills “on a new level”. He also had to interact with district council officials in order to gain access to the communities. “It took some time to convince them,” he recalls. “I told them that it was not a one-off thing, but the data we collect will be used for further research and activities that will ultimately help to bring a change in people’s lives.” He ultimately succeeded in gaining access for the team, playing a key role in the study.

Stewart later on had the chance to take up the position as Malawi’s SFA hub administrator. Through this position, he learnt to handle domestic and international communications on a daily basis and deal with finance and administration. “I’ve gained new skills,” he says. “Just this week we were working on proposal-writing for funding for projects.” He recently participated in a Research Administrators Workshop in Tanzania, organised by the University of Glasgow by where he named communications, financial management, budgeting and costing as areas where he learnt new ideas.

He hopes these skills will help him in his coming adventure as a student at the University of Glasgow, where he will earn his Master’s degree in Education. Through an SFA proposal submitted to Global Challenges Research Council, Stewart will be Glasgow bound in a few months’ time! His independent research will explore the implications – for access, inclusion, and attainment – of international educational policy and aid on local and place-based pedagogies.

As he prepares to head to Glasgow, Stewart remains busy with his work as hub administrator in Malawi. “I am challenged continuously to do the best that I can,” he says. He’s quick to attribute his success to the help of his colleagues: “Through the never-ending support that I receive from my hub director, Dr Moyo, as well as other local and international partners, we are able to move forward, achieve our objectives and be better. I think that the future of the SFA network can never be as bright as it is now.”


Women Environment Programme Wins Nigerian Energy Award

By Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of the Network

It was a proud moment for Women Environment Programme (WEP) when the 2019 Energy Globe National Awards in Nigeria were announced and they were declared winner. The technological innovation that got them the award was the Solar Tent Dryer, which has helped promote women economic empowerment in Adogo District, Nigeria.

In July 2018, WEP built a solar dryer at Adogo community using locally available materials. The tent was built like a greenhouse, with a short brick wall, tin roof and plastic sheets as walls, with air vents to allow warm air to rise. As the warm air rises, the fruits and vegetables which are laid out in racks made with nets are dried efficiently, while preserving its nutritional value. This technology hygienically and efficiently dries fruits and vegetables using solar radiation, which heats the tent like a green house. Previously, the community used to dry fruits and vegetables out in the open, prone to contamination by dust and flies. They said their pepper crop used to get rotten very quickly. Adogo community now uses the tent to dry chillies and fruits and says they are able to note that the colour and nutrition is better when drying in the tent and furthermore, the produce is preserved and lasts longer.

A simple, yet effective technology, the solar tent was inspired by Solar Fish Dryers built under the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme, implemented in fishing communities in southern Malawi. Deepa Pullanikkatil, who had previously worked in this project, shared the technology with WEP Founder Priscilla Ackchapa at the University of Glasgow in 2017 and brought a model of the solar tent to Nigeria in early 2018. WEP was able to replicate this model in their Adogo community and customize it to local situation with community participation. Both Deepa Pullanikkatil and Priscilla Ackchapa are members of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network and connected at the University of Glasgow at an SFA conference.

The technology is reducing waste of food produce, ensure availability of seasonal food for longer duration and preserves food, thereby increasing incomes for the community. WEP’s project of Promoting Women Empowerment through Efficient Technology that makes available solar dryer tents in rural communities won the organization he Energy Globe Award, which is today’s most prestigious environmental award. With over 2000 project submissions from more than 187 participating countries annually, it distinguishes projects regionally, nationally and globally that focus on energy efficiency, renewable energy and conservation of resources. Women Environmental Programme (WEP) was presented as the 2019 Energy Globe Award winners for Nigeria on 29th October 2019 on the occasion of the National Day Celebration at the Austrian Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria.

Women drying chillies in the solar dryer built by WEP