Education as an Entry Point to the Positive Transformation of Ecuador’s Small-Scale Mining Sector

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) represents 85 per cent of Ecuador’s overall gold production and is considered to be one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Mining operations, which mainly occur in the southern regions of Ecuador – El Oro, Azuay, Zamora-Chinchipe – provide people in remote and rural areas with a source of income and ensure sustainable livelihoods. Over 100,000 workers in Ecuador are involved in ASGM, with at least 10,000 of them engaged in the mining activities illegally. Although the ASGM sector in Ecuador has seen some improvements in recent years, a significant number of miners still use inefficient mining and recovery methods and do not have access to improved technologies.

In the past decade, in particular since the adoption of the 2008 Constitution, Ecuador’s government has prioritized addressing social and environmental challenges associated with the ASGM sector such as environmental damages – deforestation, contamination of the water and soil, release of mercury and cyanide vapour, and human right violations, including exploitation and gender discrimination. Apart from introducing a set of legal frameworks, education has been perceived to play a vital role in the process of improving Ecuador’s ASGM sector. To reduce the negative impact of ASGM activities and to enable positive transformation, the Government of Ecuador is actively working to provide communities with access to new knowledge, skills and advanced technologies.

The Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI) has been working closely with the Government of Ecuador through the Vice Ministry of Mines on developing a long-term gender-inclusive education and training program for small-scale miners. CIRDI’s TransMAPE project focused primarily on socially and environmentally responsible and economically efficient mining practices. TransMAPE adopted the concept of social learning to help respond to the realities of ASGM in the country. Using this learning model, CIRDI team emphasized the importance of non-hierarchical relationships, collaboration and trust in the learning process, while mutually exploring ASGM-related issues with diverse stakeholders and actors. Additionally, the project team promoted social co-learning aimed at building the capacity of those involved in the critical evaluation of existing ASGM knowledge and environmental challenges, ASGM knowledge generation and penetration, and the application of knowledge to policy and practice related to ASM.

Over the last 3 years, CIRDI’s TransMAPE project developed partnerships with several national (IIGE, SETEC, Grupo FARO, FUNDER) and international organisations (UNDP, ARM) to organise a number of educational initiatives which blended Canadian and Ecuadorian expertise and experience, and brought together miners, government regulators, and external experts for open dialogue. TransMAPE increased access to information on the realities of ASGM operations and their environmental and social impacts for diverse stakeholders through the production and dissemination of several reports and knowledge products. (This material can be found on CIRDI’s project web-page).

To build on the positive outcomes of this project, CIRDI and the Vice Ministry of Mines of Ecuador signed a two-year Memorandum of Understanding that solidifies their collaboration in support of inclusive, sustainable mineral development in Ecuador.