“A comprehensive report by the Peru Support Group critically examines the extent to which artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is responsible for the various problems often attributed to it. The full report (in either English or Spanish) can be downloaded from the links in the article.”
A number of factors have moved the issue of artisanal and small-scale gold mining higher up the political agenda in Peru in recent months. High gold prices and persistent poverty have encouraged the expansion of such activity and its proliferation throughout the country. In areas such as Madre de Dios there are increasing complaints of environmental damage and criminality associated with non-formalised mining operations. Government efforts to clampdown on such activities have often been met with protests and sometimes violence.
This new Peru Support Group report, available in both English and Spanish, critically examines the extent to which artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is responsible for the various problems often attributed to it. The report argues that a shortcoming of much analysis of the phenomenon thus far has been the failure to make a clear distinction between the size of mining (artisanal, small, medium or large-scale) and its mode of operation (illegal, informal or formal). This has often resulted in misconceptions about what the precise characteristics of ASM operations are.
The report outlines the broad differences between the various categories of ASM and uses case studies to highlight the diversity which exists within the sector. It aims to show that while some artisanal operations are indeed highly irresponsible (as are many medium-scale gold mining operations), there are equally others who comply fully with all local legislation. These formalised ASM operations, the document explains, have better working practices than their illegal counterparts and make use of cleaner technologies to process gold, dramatically reducing their environmental impact. Many other miners operate somewhere between the two extremes: they are actively seeking to formalise their operations, but have not yet proved able to overcome the significant challenges involved. In the meantime, their activities may continue to generate adverse environmental and public health impacts.
In view of the diversity of ASM operations, the report concludes, the government’s policy response, which has been broadly to criminalise the sector, will continue to prove inadequate. An effective long-term resolution to the issue may more easily be found if the state first:
- Recognises the diversity within the sector and moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with non-formalised operations;
- Analyses and draws lessons from civil society programmes which have successfully enabled miners to manage the transition to formality; and
- Increases support to those seeking to formalise and provides regional authorities with the necessary staff and finance to effectively regulate the sector.
Such measures would help separate those ASM operations which deliberately act irresponsibly from those genuinely interested in, but as yet unable, to formalise. This would constitute a vital first step in developing a more nuanced and effective policy to deal with the phenomenon.