Monthly Archives: November 2011

Small Scale Gold mining in the Amazon

Small Scale Gold mining in the Amazon
Anthropologists of five South American countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Suriname) are conducting a research known as the Gomiam project, on how to resolve conflicts caused by small-scale gold mining in the Amazon region. About ten scientists are involved.
The first phase of the project, from 2011 to 2013, will be dedicated to a comparative analysis of the different political and environmental situations of the local populations and of the miners themselves.”If you don’t understand the social relationships you cannot put the information into context”, says the anthropologist Marieke Heemskerk, that researches in Suriname. “Therefore we want to know who is involved in small scale mining, how various groups in the village and surroundings are involved, what their interests are and how they think of each other”.


Marieke Heemskerk on an ATV
on her way to the mining site
Kriki 9 (Creek 9) near Brownsweg.

????? According to the Dutch Anthropologist Marjo de Theije, whom had the idea of this project, the focus on the Amazon basin is important because small scale gold mining faces a multitude of acute environmental problems which affect ecosystems on a global scale, but it also has large economic benefits. “Gold mining is one of the most important economic activities in this region, supporting for example the livelihoods of an estimated 12% of Suriname’s population. Peru is the world’s fifth producer of gold, and Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Suriname are all in the top thirty. Moreover, the opening of large-scale mines (Yanacocha in Peru, Gros Rosebel in Suriname) and the recent sharp rise in gold prices has increased the production in most South American countries”, she says.

According to her, in 2008 registered production of gold in the five countries was almost 300.000 kilo, a figure in which large part of the gold produced by small-scale miners “is not even counted.”
Social and environmental achievements are threatened

Last month Marieke started the first phase of the research at the mining community of Brownsweg, which is situated in the district of Brokopondo, about 100 km south of the capital city of Paramaribo. A co-researcher is the mining engineer Ramon Vinki. He looks at the mining part of the research together with his students of the Anton de Kom University of Suriname. “We register the methods and techniques and the operational costs of the companies within the small scale mining to know if it is possible to minimize the operational costs. It is difficult to find out their exact income. We will also look at the environmental pollution of water and soil”. An estimated 20-30% of adult men are working in the small-scale gold mining areas.

 What the project says about the other four countries

Map of the studied region in Brazil. Photo: Gomiam


Bolivian Miners

?“Bolpebra is a small village in the northeast of Bolivia (department of Pando). Recently, informal small-scale gold mining has expanded and inhabitants report an ‘invasion‘ of Peruvians into the territory, who together with immigrating Brazilian and up-rushing Bolivian miners, form international miners’ camps of in total 35-40.000 miners. The region shows considerable numbers of malaria and dengue”.

“Tapajós is the most important gold mining region of Brazil. Nowadays approximately 20.000 miners work in the region, producing 20 to 30 kg of gold per day. Both large-scale and the small-scale mining were affected by a federal government decision in 2005, that limited the use of land around the Highway BR 163. Part of the territory was declared protected area for nature conservation. Despite this new legal framework small-scale mining continues, now in a ‘not legalized’ way”.


“Oro Verde is the world’s first pilot certification scheme that differentiates responsibly mined gold and platinum in order for it to be sold as green and fair metals in specialized market niches.This initiative currently involves around 700 certified artisanal miners of the local Afro-Colombian population, who protect 4500 ha of tropical rainforest.

In spite of Oro Verde’s success, for a miner to be legal, he/she has to do artisanal subsistence mining or possess a mining concession under the same requirements asked from large mining corporations”.


“The most important informal small-scale gold mining area of Peru is located in the Madre de Dios department, where mining interacts with both nature conservation and the infrastructural opening of the Amazon. However, over the past decade, the situation has grown critic and unsustainable through the invasion of more immigrant miners and poor Andean workers. This was exacerbated by the construction of the Inter-Oceanic Highway, which links the regional capital of Puerto Maldonado to coastal Peru and the Brazilian border. This increased accessibility causes a new gold rush of a dimension that is beyond the control capacity of local state authorities”.

Mining impacts
The gold mining technique has numerous environmental impacts, like river turbidity, mercury pollution, threats from improperly constructed tailing dams, river siltation, acid mine drainage, land degradation and soil erosion, deforestation, landscape reduction. The damage has its impact on human health and biodiversity and the loss of biodiversity has on his part an impact on the local communities.

Mining vs. protection of the biodiversity

In Suriname, for example, they have no access to safe drinking water from the river and the creeks and have loss of agricultural ground. They only can meet their livelihoods with growing difficulties. Because of the water turbid the quality of the fishes reduces and because of mercury pollution of the rivers the fishes contains a high level of mercury, what threatens their health. Researchers have found high levels of mercury in indigenous women of the Wajana village Apetina at the Tapanahony river in the south of Suriname. During the mining operations, many conflicts arise between miners, villagers, government and large scale Canadian gold mining companies.


Small Scale Gold mining in Suriname


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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Caribisch Gebied