(3 Jul 2017) LEADIN
Illegal gold mining in Ivory Coast is still widespread in the country's north despite government efforts to control it.
Local officials complain too many men and women are joining the continuing gold rush and leaving farms without enough labour.
At an illegal mine in Tongon in the far north of Ivory Coast, around fifty kilometres from the border with Burkina Faso, miners have dug a 20 metre shaft into a layer of gold bearing rock.
Rocks are hauled to the surface before being pounded into a powder. It's very a labour intensive and sometimes dangerous process.
Illegal mining has been blamed for uncontrolled migration between countries in the region, unchecked pollution and for fuelling violence.
Miners move around, following the latest gossip of where gold is to be found.
Miner Hamed Ouedraogo has come from northern neighbour Burkina Faso: "Often when we are moving about we hear of new mines that have been started and that are people are going there, so we head there too."
Although operating without permits, miners have machinery on hand to help them and receive a small salary from the illegal mine's owners, often businessmen working with the help of corrupt local officials.
It is something authorities have been trying to stamp out as they encourage international investors into the sector.
George Gueu Gombadji, the Prefect of Boundiali region says that it means that agriculture is also suffering as there are fewer men to work the land.
"This (illegal gold mining) is causing a major loss off of the nation's riches. It has reached such a scale that the supply of agricultural labourers is drying up as they all go mining instead," he says.
Illegal mining took off during the years prior to Ivory Coast's 2011 civil war, with rebels occupying much of the north.
While the money doesn't flow into the state's coffers, run-off from the illegal mining pollutes water courses.
Ouedraogo says the gold will be sold off wherever it can attract the highest prices: "In Burkina Faso the price is higher, a gramme (of gold) can go up to 30,000 West African francs (51 US dollars)."
He says in Ivory Coast the going rate is 12,500 francs (21 US dollars) per gramme.
Not far away are the offices of Randgold Resources, a NASDAQ and London stock exchange listed gold mining company.
They operate legally, holding an official permit to mine in the area.
They operate on an entirely different scale to the illegal miners - the Tongon mine, operated in partnership with the state, comprises two massive open cast mines.
According to Randgold's own figures, last year they extracted 260,556 ounces of gold at this mine in Ivory Coast, that is over 7 metric tonnes, generating over 121 (m) million US dollars in profit.
Bodiel N'diaye, the company's country director recently gathered journalists to explain why he is unhappy with the impact of the illegal mining.
"These people come and set up in areas where they do not have the right to operate. Take our concessions for example, where we have a government licence (to mine). When we come to start working, we can't because these people are occupying the site illegally, they have no authorisation from the supervising ministry. They don't follow the laws," he says.
Government efforts to crackdown on the illegal mining have done little to stop the practice. The illegal miners simply move on or across borders briefly before returning.
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