Temporalities and spatialities of the problematic impact of oil: the case of Dixcove, a fishing community in the Western Region of Ghana. By Pius Siakwah

The problematic impact of natural resources on development, often referred to as the ‘resource curse’ has been the focus of much research and development policy. It has generated a great deal of research since the 1970s as natural resource rich countries in the developing world seem to perform poorly economically and on development indicators compared to resource poor countries. Researchers and development practitioners have explained the curse in terms of how natural resource windfalls are implicated in a country’s poor economic growth, governance, government borrowing and debt, currency movement, decline in manufacturing and agricultural sectors, environmental degradation and violent conflicts. Though the curse seemed visible in some countries, some skeptics however, argued that whereas the economic growth rate of resource rich economies was erratic, it was similar to the resource poor ones.

The framing of the existing literature on the impact of natural resources on development, and for that matter the curse, is problematic for its methodological nationalism (where it does not account adequately for global and local factors in shaping how resource windfalls impact development and how the curse or the problematic impact of natural resources can manifest unevenly). Such national-scale analysis that pushes questions of the role of transnational actors, agencies and structures and their impact on development outcomes and geographies of the problematic impact of natural resource (oil) across space and class. Indeed, whereas national scale analysis of the problematic impact of oil has been extensive, local level analysis of it, including how it manifestations unevenly and differentiated is limited (except for places like the Niger Delta where oil exploitation has been characterised by conflict and pollution). A ‘localised curse’ can be said to manifest where exploration of natural resources such as oil leads to a disruption of local economic activities due to pollution of rivers and farmlands, conflicts, poverty, inequality and increased local economic vulnerability. An analysis of the impact of oil on livelihoods of fisher-folks in Dixcove, Ghana has helped to bring to the fore the differentiated and temporal/spatial associated with oil-based development.

Dixcove is a fishing community in the Ahanta West District, located at the southern-most part of the Western Region of Ghana (indicated below). It is one of the oldest fishing communities in the district and Ghana. Dixcove is also one of the relatively developed areas in district, with access to social facilities such as roads, schools, and hospitals. There are about 7,500 inhabitants in Dixcove according to the 2010 national population and housing census. Seventy percent of the population live in rural areas, mostly engaging in fishing and farming. Fisheries accounts for 90% of livelihoods for the men in Dixcove, hence any disruption in the sector has implications for the local economy. Most of the women in Dixcove are also engaged in the fish trade through processing, making the area the center of fish trading for adjoining communities.



 Ahanta West District (Geography Dept., University of Ghana, 2015)

Since Ghana discovered oil in 2007 in the Cape Three Point area, a place that has served as fishing ground for some inhabitants in the area, it seems that stakeholders such as the government, international institutions like the World Bank and NGOs have been more focused on institutionalised approaches, such as state level transparency, in the use of windfalls to avoid the resource curse which has manifested in some resource rich economies in the developing world. While it is important to initiate polices that can help Ghana to reduce or avoid the national scale curse, there is also the need to recognise how local economies and livelihoods are intertwined with and constituted through national and global political economy. There is the need to examine how oil exploitation can also impact local economies and in the process will produce winners and losers. For a fishing-based community such as Dixcove in the Western Region, Ghana, whose economy and livelihood is shaped and embedded in fishing and its related activities, an economic activity such as oil exploitation offshore that obstructs or competes with the fishing industry for space can have adverse consequences for its inhabitants.

Since the discovery of oil in 2007 offshore, near Dixcove, there have been changes in economic activities in the area. The residents, mostly fishermen and fishmongers expected that the oil sector would provide some employment and lead to poverty reduction in the area; but it seems, up to now, that this remains only an expectation. Focus group discussions with some of the fishermen and fishmongers during this study suggest that a decline in fishing and limited employment has resulted in an income decline in the area. Factors contributing to the decline of the fisheries sector in the area include: poor enforcement of fishing laws, unsustainable fishing, such as using small meshed nets, increased number of fishing vessels, inadequate supply of fishing fuel, inadequate supply of parts for outboard motors, and restriction on fishing around the oil rigs. Some of the fishermen suggest that restrictions on fishing due to oil exploration is the main cause of decrease in fish catch in the area since the fish are attracted to the lights at the oil rigs. There are also environmental challenges in the fishing communities.

Dirty environment in Dixcove


Women waiting for fish from the sea.




My study showed that there are temporalities and spatialities to the problematic nature of oil for development. Temporally, Ghana’s government increased borrowing backed by oil seems to be creating a ‘deferred or delayed debt curse’ for the future generation as well as a potential ‘deferred conflict’. Ghana’s experience with oil exploitation shows that the country is not currently experiencing oil-related violent conflict, even though there have been reported cases of clashes between fishermen and oil companies in the country’s western coast due to restrictions on fishing. But since conflicts are not episodic events, but can build over time, the seeming non-violent conflicts between the fishermen and state/oil companies could evolve into violent conflict in the future if the perceive neglect of fishing communities are not addressed. A ‘deferred violent conflict’ might emerge later in Ghana when fisher-folks’ grievances, income decline, and economic challenges are not addressed.

Spatially, whereas oil has had positive impacts on the provision of social services nationally and generation of some employment for the educated, the fisher-folks experienced decline in income due to restrictions on fishing in the sea near their locality. Based on the interviews and the survey with the fishermen and fishmongers in the community, the study showed that whereas the incidence of poverty in Dixcove and its environs in general is not as bad as compared to many other parts of the country, the incidence of poverty is unevenly distributed among the people, with fishermen and fishmongers in the area experiencing a decline in income due to restriction on fishing in the sea space near their locality. Eighty-one percent of the fishermen and fishmongers surveyed indicated during this study that between 2011 and 2015, their incomes declined between 20% and 50%. The problems that oil poses to Ghana’s development are differentiated and manifest unevenly, with temporal and spatial dimensions, and the directionality of incidences of poverty and inequality is not always predetermined in resources rich economies.

Historical Geography: A Call to Arms

Recently, I was privileged to attend the Sowing the Seeds Workshop at the University of Cambridge. The Workshop was focused on the Economic History of Medieval Europe. While attending, I was struck by the strong level of scholarship of the presenters and panelists. It was a truly informative and inspiring experience. However, I also noticed that there was a dearth of historical geographers; something which was noted by a number of the panelists as well.

It is a  sad irony that historical geographers should have a diminished presence at such interdisciplinary events. The irony lies in that the time is very opportune for our research. Advances in GIS now allow for a plethora of statistical analyses and visualizations of historical data-sets. Additionally, vast amounts of historical documents, calendars, and archives are becoming increasingly digitized and open-source. It cannot be understated how much this increases the efficacy of historical research, but also decreases the time and costs involved with archival research. There are still large swaths of history that require not only initial investigation but also revaluation with GIS and related technologies.

Outside of research tools and data, increasing concern about climate change has also created an interest in the historical climate change. Historical geographer are well situated to analyze these past climatic phenomena. Versed in both historical documents that shed insight into past weather and climate conditions as well as aspects of physical geography, historical geographer can provide a unique lens with which to view and synthesize diverse data. By combining this data, researchers can understand how climatic change has impacted human behavior and well-being. For example, climate reconstructions have been paired with the Irish Annals to understand the interplay between climate fluctuations and conflict. Such understandings can be crucial for adapting to anthropogenic climate change.

The purpose of this post is to encourage young academics to take an interest in historical geography. If you want to pursue this discipline, you will find yourself needed. Historical geography in Ireland, in particular, offers an array of opportunities. A great deal of work still needs to be done on our understanding of how Ireland was populated, how Celtic influence came to Ireland, and the impact of English colonization on medieval Ireland (just to name a few areas). Ireland’s trees and bogs also offer up climate proxies. The tools, the data, and the heuristic opportunities are all there for you to seize.

Thank you for your time,

Christopher Casey Chevallier

The Irish Seafloor: Out of sight, out of mind?

In recent years, intensive marine mapping has provided unprecedented quantities of high quality data on Ireland’s offshore territories. Kieran Craven explains more.

It is said that we know more about the surface of the Moon, than we do about our own planet’s ocean floors.  Globally, the ocean floor has been mapped to a maximum resolution of around 5km, with less than 0.05% of the ocean floor being mapped to a level of detail useful for detecting items such as ariplane wreckage or the tops of undersea volcanic vents.  Compare this to the entire lunar surface being mapped to a resolution of seven metres, and we see the discrepency in our knowledge between these two places.  Hidden beneath kilometres of water, until quite recently the seabed has been out of sight and relatively inaccessible to humans.  The maps that have been produced have used few measurements with lots of guesswork added!

In recent years, helped by the activities of the fishing, petroleum exploration and telecommunication industries, the production of high resolution maps of the North Atlantic seafloor have become prioritisied.  To map it remotely (from the sea surface), multibeam sonar and other advanced geophysical techniques must be used.  Rapid advancements in ocean mapping techniques, in particular development of multibeam echosounders (MBES) and accurate global positioning systems (GPS) have now made this possible.  With these new tools, full coverage high resolution bathymetric mapping of the Irish seabed became feasible (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: The Real Map of Ireland

Started in 1999 with a €32m Irish investment, the Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS) and INFOMAR (INtegrated mapping FOr the sustainable development of the MArine Resources), both collaborations between the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and the Irish Marine Institute (MI), have nearly completed the task of mapping the entire Irish sea bed (more than half a million square kilometres (Fig. 2).  The INSS mapped all areas deeper than 200m water depth, covering a total of 250,815 ship lines, while INFOMAR focuses on depths above this (Fig. 3).  All of this data is available to anyone free of charge from http://www.infomar.ie/data.


Figure 3: Bathymetry of coastal zones above 300m: generated from INFOMAR data

This data has many uses.  First and foremost, geomorphological features, previously unmapped can be observed in great detail (Fig. 4).  Ireland’s shallow (<400m water depth) continental shelf is characterised by large submarine canyons, channels, seamounds, escarpments and carbonate mounds that form the architecture upon which diverse biological habitats form and which can become protected once identified.  Glacial features preserved on the continental shelf are also in abundance, including moraines and iceberg ploughmarks dating to the last ice age (>20 thousand years ago).  They contain footprints of the last ice sheets to have covered the island of Ireland; a history closely linked to past climate change.

Figure 4: Bathymetry of Porcupine Bank detailing bedrock ridges and iceberg ploughmarks on the seabed

In late 2015, following my PhD in Trinity (investigating coastal evidence of geologically-recent sea-level change) and a couple of years working in universities and industry, I was awarded an Irish Research Council (IRC) Enterprise Postdoctoral Scholarship based at Maynooth University (MU) and the Geological Survey of Ireland.  This started in February 2016 and the project continues the research collaboration between Dr Stephen McCarron (MU) and Xavier Monteys (INFOMAR, GSI), using the marine geophysical information to understand more about our current seafloor and recent glacial history.  Over the next two years, using the available INFOMAR data, along with other geophysical data available through the Petroluem Affairs Division and the British Geological Survey, I will be interpreting over 10,000km2 of Quaternary sediments on the Malin shelf, off northwest Ireland. The work aims to characterise seabed type (sand/mud/rock) along with the distribution, age and thickness of sediments. This work will help foster understanding, together with sustainable exploitation (e.g. renewable energy development), of our extensive marine resources.

No longer does the seafloor remain out of sight.

Blog Authored by: Kieran Craven, a former postgraduate student and lecturer in the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin. He is now an IRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Maynooth University and the Geological Survey of Ireland.





Fieldwork – why planning is essential and why nothing ever goes to plan!


Part of my PhD research is to measure, using a Transverse Micro Erosion Meter (TMEM), the rate of vertical erosion on a shore platform on the west coast of Ireland (figure 1). Installation of 22 TMEM stations was carried out in December 2015 with the much needed assistance of former Earth Science student Joseph Dempsey.


Figure 1. The shore platform and cliff at Ballard Bay, Co. Clare. The platform is approximately 800m long and 100m at its widest point. The cliffs are approximately 30m at their highest point. Photo taken by Niamh Cullen.

Why carry out fieldwork in December you might ask? Because it was planned for Sep 2015 but, as the title of this blog suggests, nothing ever goes to plan where field work is concerned.  Installing each of the 22 (so far) TMEM stations required drilling three equilateral holes into solid rock and inserting a steel pin, held in place with marine grade epoxy resin, into each hole. All of this was carried out in the narrow window afforded by low spring tide and December daylight hours, while simultaneously trying to avoid falling rocks, rouge waves and navigate across an extremely slippery platform surface carrying equipment. Ensue multiple equipment and installation issues which, after much head scratching and scurrying about the county for parts, were eventually resolved.

After installation came the even trickier data collection. This involved lying face down on the wet platform, often in a rock pool, carefully collecting 145 high precision measurements per station with each station taking approximately 40 mins to complete. Each station will be re-measured on a seasonal basis for the duration of the project. The result of all this are the first TMEM stations in Ireland (figure 2) and what will be the first empirical TMEM measurements of vertical erosion on one of Irelands many shore platforms.


Figure 2. Ireland’s first TMEM station (centre foreground) for measuring vertical erosion on a shore platform. Photo taken by Joseph Dempsey.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Careful planning is key.
  2. Nothing ever goes to plan.
  3. Estimate the time needed to carry out each task.
  4. Multiply the estimated time by 3, or, if you want a more scientific estimate, multiply the estimated time by 3.141592 (i.e. Pi).

Based on this I anticipate finishing my PhD sometime in the middle of this century!

Blog authored by Niamh Cullen, PhD candidate, Geography Department, TCD.

CONSENSUS HomeLabs – One year on!


On September the 15th President Obama released a new Executive Order focused on enhancing the use of behavioural science insights to better serve the American people. The CONSENSUS research team supports this perspective and encourages the Irish government to give similar priority to understanding why people act the way they do and the supports people need to behave in ways which are more sustainable. Our research demonstrates how better understanding of what shapes behaviour can help transform household practices.

Through its innovative HomeLabs experiments  the ways in which combining and aligning regulatory, educational and technological supports can assist in that transformation towards sustainable household consumption have been investigated. Following on from the high level findings from the Eating and Washing HomeLabs published earlier in 2015, we are pleased to release the findings of surveys conducted with the same households six and twelve months following their engagement with the HomeLabs.

From these surveys we were able to see what changes stimulated by the HomeLabs have become embedded in their everyday activities. The full reports can be downloaded from here, and some of the key positive changes in eating and practices twelve months on are listed below:


  • 80% of participants reported eating more sustainably
  • The number of people eating meat everyday reduced by 21% and the number only eating meat two or three days a week increased from 0 to 38%
  • The number of people growing their own food and sharing food doubled
  • Total food waste produced had decreased from 25kg to 17kg (at six months)
  • The use of storage devices to assist in identifying food close to its ‘use by’ date increased from 8% to 75%
  • Use of the brown bin increased by 30% and home composting from 33% to 50%
  • Following a shopping list became a strong habit for all except one household 


  • Showering and bathing frequency declined on average across all households
  • Nearly a quarter of all participants reported an increase in the sustainability of their washing
  • Taking a shorter shower is the most commonly adopted practice change across all households
  • The use of the shower timer and/or meter was adopted by at least some participants in 4 out of 5 households
  • A shorter shower was a strong habit for all households
  • Adjusting the flow of water while showering had become a strong habit for two households
  • Reducing water use while in the shower had become a strong habit for three households
  • Turning off the tap while brushing teeth had become a strong habit in all households


Blog Authored by Professor Anna Davies from the geography department & the CONSENSUS Principal Investigator.

Project was funded by the EPA. 


Microplastics: a macro-problem for remote islands in the South Atlantic?

Dr Dannielle Green from the Biogeochemistry Research Group in TCD Geography is about to return from an adventure in the South Atlantic where she was hunting for microplastics in some of the world’s most remote islands.

Plastic debris can be found in every country around the world and larger items like plastic bags and bottles can have obvious impacts, such as entanglement, ingestion and suffocation of seabirds, turtles and mammals. But even when plastic breaks down, it persists as small pieces called “microplastics” and in this form can still cause harm to a wide range of marine organisms who unwittingly eat it. Microplastics have been found in marine waters all over the globe but sampling has mostly focused on areas adjacent to large human populations, very little is known about concentrations in remote islands like Ascension Island and the Falkland islands. In collaboration with Dr David Blockley from the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), Dr Dannielle Green from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland flew out to the South Atlantic to assess the situation.

Eerily desolate but beautiful Ascension island.
Eerily desolate but beautiful Ascension island.

Water samples were taken from a range of sites around Ascension Island and the Falklands and every site was found to contain microplastics. In fact, the concentrations found were surprisingly high.

Taking water samples in the only glass bottles available... Pimm's bottles!
Taking water samples in the only glass bottles available… Pimm’s bottles!

Dr Green presented her work to the Falkland islanders by giving a public lecture at the Chamber of Commerce which was well attended with a mixed audience including government officials, fishermen, the general public and the local television crew. She explained the potential issues of microplastic pollution and a thoughtful discussion about solutions later ensued with input from the audience.

Dannielle presenting her results at the Chamber of Commerce in Stanley.
Dannielle presenting her results at the Chamber of Commerce in Stanley.

Microplastics can absorb toxic substances from the water column. In this way, they can become like “pills” of concentrated toxic chemicals that could be consumed by creatures like worms, shellfish, fish and mammals and can be transferred through the food web.

Pollution of natural habitats by microplastics is a global problem that we are only just beginning to understand, but it is one that is expected to get worse as plastic production continues to rise. Dr Green’s research explores the wider effects of microplastics on marine ecosystems. Through this work, she hopes to provide scientifically sound recommendations that will feed into policy and help protect our ecosystems.

Empowering Women through Conservation Agriculture: Rhetoric or Reality?

TCD Geography’s Jane Maher recently had her excellent research published in a book titled Conservation Agriculture in Subsistence Farming: Case Studies from South Asia and Beyond. Jane contributed a chapter on ‘Empowering Women through Conservation Agriculture: Rhetoric or Reality? Evidence from Malawi’. This chapter sought to examine whether Conservation Agriculture (CA) could play a role in the empowerment of women through agriculture. This was assessed within the analytical framework of the impact CA has on women’s time and labour, agricultural production and household food security, decision-making in the home and social capital.

Book cover Continue reading “Empowering Women through Conservation Agriculture: Rhetoric or Reality?”