CE's Smits Organizes Workshop to Help Peru’s Artisanal Gold Miners

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Kathleen Smits, an associate professor in the Civil Engineering Department, helped organize the Voces Mineras workshop in Lima, Peru, in April for representatives of industry, government, academic and non-governmental organizations committed to the sustainability of artisanal and small-scale gold mining, or ASGM.

The workshop brought together multiple interests to examine the biggest problems facing ASGM miners in Peru and co-create a pathway to design solutions, thus enabling miners to effectively engage in regional and global markets and improve their livelihoods. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining is generally characterized by simple technologies and lower yields compared to large-scale industrial mining, but about 30 percent of all gold used worldwide comes from ASGM sources. This type of mining leads to deforestation and environmental contamination because mercury is used to process the ore.

Attendees included representatives from 20 ASGM operations, four regulatory jurisdictions, two international NGOs, five international universities and several other organizations. Both formal and informal mining operations were strongly represented. In addition to Smits, organizers included Libby MacDonald of the MIT D-Lab, Juan Lucena and Nicole Smith of Colorado School of Mines, Silvia Rosas and Fernando Gonzales of La Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru and Oscar Restepo of the Universidad Nacional in Colombia.

Building on the success of a similar workshop in Colombia in 2018, the workshop used a collaborative framework that has been used in developmental sectors previously, but had never before been applied to ASGM. Based on this model, which was developed by the MIT D-Lab, which pursues collaboration with communities on addressing developing-world challenges, the workshop focused on three main challenges faced by miners: the lack of integration of the law with the reality of the miners’ situation in Peru; a lack of access to both technical and legal information; and the need for improvements in the beneficiation and commercialization process, which is how the ore is treated to obtain a more concentrated form of the product and then brought to market.

“The consensus position was that progress toward formalization hinges on the development of a forum that is transparent and accepted by both regulators and operators, and that allows miners to articulate their needs in collaboration with other key stakeholder groups, including government and large-scale mining companies,” Smits said.

“In addition to promoting miners’ needs, such a forum would help address the lack of technical and legal information currently available to miners, and legislative agencies across jurisdictions could rely upon the forum to assist with developing inclusive policies that allow artisanal and small-scale miners to achieve sustainable livelihoods while reducing their environmental impacts and their vulnerability in shadow economies.”