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Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in Colombia has a long history significantly shaped by conflict. An estimated 340,000 Colombians – both directly and indirectly – depend upon the sector, which when left unmanaged may serve as a financial instrument for armed groups and civil conflict. Mining activities in Chocó, Colombia’s second largest gold producing region, have failed to tangibly benefit the local people due to a lack of formality, control, and surveillance, which invites corruption and creates barriers for equitable benefit sharing.
Political concern over the impacts of illegal gold mining on environmental resources is increasing, especially in areas where the collective land title is held by Indigenous and Afro-Colombian Communities (Comunidades Negras) by virtue of their status. According to recent estimates, most of the gold extracted in the region comes from alluvial operations, yet less than half of Colombia’s gold panners in the region are registered. This presents a major challenge for the Colombian authorities as the majority of miners do not have secure land tenure or access to formal markets.
It is believed by many that a peaceful and collaborative transition of control of ASGM activities (from FARC to government and decentralized local authorities) will be key to addressing the environmental degradation arising from the sectors informality. In Choco, it is estimated that 97% of all small-scale gold mines operate without environmental permits, leading to deforestation, biodiversity loss, chemical contamination and river siltation. While governance reforms over the last 25 years have striven to improve the socioeconomic benefits and minimize the environmental risks of artisanal mining, the potential impacts of regulatory and political reforms have not been fully realized.
The development of the ASGM sector in Colombia represents an opportunity to not only to lower poverty but also safeguard environmental resources and strengthen post-conflict consultation. In collaboration with national government institutions, local authorities, and FARC leadership this project aims to address issues impeding the formalization and long-term viability of the sector for miners and vulnerable populations, including Afro-Columbian miners. Ultimately, the project will facilitate a shift towards a more responsible management of mining practices. In particular, the project will increase beneficiary access to geologic information, enhance understanding of ASGM livelihoods and resource issues regarding ancestral mining activities, and help regulators make informed decisions regarding land-use in former conflict zones. The project will prepare ASGM practitioners to increase women’s participation in decision-making and provide local training in improved prospecting, extraction, and processing techniques to reduce environmental impacts and enhance profits.
Gender – Understanding how differential access to resource and opportunities for men, women and youth arises in the Colombian ASGM sector can better inform all interventions. Boom and bust cycles in ASGM disproportionately impact families negatively, women in particular. For these reasons, gender-responsive indicator selection, data disaggregation and evaluation will be essential to support impact evaluation and to address gender equality strategies in ASGM.
Environment – This project will seek to understand traditional mining practices, including awareness-raising on how local mercury-free gold recovery can increase profits and minimize environmental harm. Integrated resource management practices and technical assistance will endeavour to minimize adverse environmental impacts on local forest, water and soil resources.
Governance – Informality remains one of the ASGM sector’s defining governance challenges. Informality and ineffective regulation are often associated with problems including forced labour, environmental degradation, and armed conflict over mineral wealth. Recent peace agreements between the national government and FARC reflect a historic turning point, particularly for rural communities where guerillas maintain strong social, economic and physical presence. While the peace process represents enormous progress, negotiations continue and there are new challenges for supporting peaceful FARC demobilization and transition to formalized economic activities. Under ILO Convention 169, of which Colombia is a signatory, indigenous resource rights will be fully considered at all stages.
To date, the project team has obtained the full support of FARC leadership and the local community in Choco to conduct the project, gained the support of local mining associations and regional governments, and obtained the support of the Ministry of Mines of Colombia and the Canadian embassy in Colombia. Next steps will be to convene a project management committee involving the community, local government, and national government in May 2017. The project is exploring possible partnerships with the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the UN Environment Post-conflict peacebuilding unit.
This project aims to: