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SERVIR WA Contributes to TechCamp on Illegal Mining

Locally known as “Galamsey” in Ghana, illegal small-scale mining has evolved into a major contributor to deforestation, water, air, and soil pollution, as well as farmland devastation in various parts of the developing world. Furthermore, it exacerbates severe health challenges and leads to an increasing number of school dropouts in mining communities, thereby jeopardizing the social fabric and posing obstacles to sustainable development.

In October 2023, a TechCamp on illegal mining was organized in Takoradi, Ghana by the US State Department with support from the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT) to find long-term, sustainable, innovative and community-based solutions to the entrenched issue of illegal mining.

The TechCamp brought together 50 Ghanaian participants from diverse fields, including representatives of mining, minerals, water resources, health, and other government agencies, as well as stakeholders from the mining sector, public health and environmental organizations, academia, and the media.

This event ignited a collaboration between key Ghanaian partners involved in artisanal small-scale mining (ASM), SERVIR West Africa (SERVIR WA), the joint geospatial initiative of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Hyperlocal Elicitation and Understanding of Risks to Stability In Complex Systems (HEURISTICS), a DARPA-funded advanced research project harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to generate hyperlocal predictions and make local knowledge available to decision-makers

Active in Ghana, and 5 other West African countries, SERVIR uses satellite data and geospatial technologies to strengthen weather and climate resilience, agriculture and food security, water security, ecosystem and carbon management, air quality and health. ​ ​ ​ ​ ​

Ghanaian partners and the SERVIR WA hub, led by ICRISAT, identified the HEURISTICS technology as an opportunity to accelerate developing country partners’ use of combined earth observation, expert interviews, predictive models, and advanced language models like ChatGPT.

Initial discussions were held with NASA and USAID about SERVIR as a joint transition partner for HEURISTICS technology, particularly in the context of SERVIR’s pre-existing investments in the monitoring of artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) activities in Africa and Latin America.

The expected value is to transform existing near-real-time monitoring capability (already deployed in Ghana by the Centre for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Services (CERSGIS) at University of Ghana) into a proactive predictive platform supporting policy decisions based on both satellite observations and causal inferential frameworks that extract using natural language processing techniques local populations’ beliefs from diverse media and radio transcripts.

This new partnership designed a concept called “Distributed, Interoperable Galamsey Information and Tracking Services” (DIGITS). DIGITS expects to leverage the power of technology including Earth Observation (EO), IoT (Internet of Things), and AI (Artificial Intelligence) to reduce risks associated with human interference in the illegal mining monitoring and regulatory processes. ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​

“We plan to build on recent technological achievements to lay the ground for more distributed, interoperable services that address, using technological and institutional innovations, the intractable political and human problems that have plagued the ASM landscape in Ghana. Our aim is to realize sustainable and responsible ASM,” said Dr Anthony ​ Aubynn, President of the African Institute of Extractive Industries (AIEI) and former CEO, Ghana Minerals Commission and Ghana Chamber of Mines.

Header picture: Participants during the TechCamp Takoradi, 12-14 October 2023. Center: Dr. Anthony Aubynn, President, African Institute of Extractive Industries and former CEO, Ghana Minerals Commission and Ghana Chamber of Mines. Center Left: Dr. Foster Mensah, Executive Director, CERSGIS, University of Ghana and SERVIR West Africa co-principal investigator. Center Right: Pierre C. Sibiry Traore, Global Cluster Lead – Digital Agriculture (ICRISAT), SERVIR West Africa User Engagement Lead and HEURISTICS co-principal investigator. Photo credits: ICRISAT, 2023.