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 aimed to address issues impeding the formalization and long-term viability of the sector for miners and vulnerable populations, including Afro-Columbian miners. In particular, the project increased beneficiary access to geologic information, enhanced understanding of ASGM livelihoods and resource issues regarding ancestral mining activities, and helped regulators make informed decisions regarding land-use in former conflict zones. The project prepared 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.
CIRDI has been explicit in its feminist approach with all project stakeholders, which has also ensured local consideration of needs for women’s well-being and economic empowerment. The project continues to include women as key project stakeholders in all activities and to understand gender issues in the ASM pilot communities better. As project activities were defined and refined with community representatives, special attention and consideration were given to women leaders and miners and their expressed interests. Local female stakeholders indicated reservation about any women-only activities; however, stated the desire for the training delivered through the project to include components that are especially relevant for women in the unique roles that they play within the mining cycle:
1. Because 70% of gold panners in the target community are women, extra effort was made to include recommendations for improved exploration and recovery for the panners (not only for organized mining groups).
2. Because CIRDI’s project was tied to the community’s efforts to create “(a) community business(es)”, as the project progresses, CIRDI probed community leaders to consider the unique roles and needs of women in the building of a business (e.g., women are highly involved in accounting activities within the mining cycle).
CIRDI signed an MOU with the Ministry of the Environment as the main project partner, meaning that environmental stewardship will remain a central tenant of all project activities and objectives. Furthermore, in the design phase of the project, there was clear and strong demand from the community partners for activities which will reduce environmental impact. Key project objectives were determined to be the improvement of techniques for alluvial gold prospecting/exploration and recovery. One of the key tenants of “improvement” in this case, reduction of environmental impact. This came out strongly during all community meeting and stakeholder engagement and the report produced that made recommendations which keep environmental stewardship at the forefront.
CIRDI’s aim was to make this a Colombian-driven initiative, requiring collaboration between the national government and local communities, and within local communities. This small initiative increased communication between communities of the Medio Atrato by emphasizing that there must be internal agreement on project activities. CIRDI worked to ensure excellent communication between the National Government, other donors in the area, the National University, and local community leadership (including new political parties). CIRDI believes that ensuring strong communication and collaboration across stakeholders is an important pilot strategy for enabling the process of transition and formalization in these small mining communities. Government and governance institutions that the project worked with included: MinAmbiente, MinMinas, Federacion de Mineros del Choco (FEDEMICHOCO), COCOMACIA, FARC, Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Medellin-Bogota), Instituto de Investigaciones Ambientales del Pacífico (IIAP), USAID, UNIDO, GEF GOLD, Canadian Embassy, One Earth Foundation (OEF), and CICAN-Canada.
This project aimed to:
Following two previous missions for consultation with government and community to identify technical assistance needs, CIRDI recently completed its first technical field mission to Bebara and Bebarama (January 24th […]