"What we've been reading" Article / Sept. 26, 2012

Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in Peru: A Blessing or a Curse?

A report by Peru Support Group.

Abstract: High gold prices, persistent poverty and a shortage of employment opportunities in Peru have all contributed to an increase in artisanal and small-scale gold mining activity in recent years. The expansion of the sector has brought new political and analytical attention to a phenomenon which has been largely overlooked in the past. Notable among some of these recent analyses of artisanal and small-scale mining is a tendency to view such operations as homogeneous. The term 'artisanal' is often used interchangeably with 'illegal' and 'informal' to refer to all mining activities not carried out by internationally-recognised commercial entities. For the most part, they are denounced either for their detrimental environmental effects, their perceived links to criminal syndicates or for encouraging social ills such as gambling, alcoholism and prostitution.

However, this largely negative portrayal overlooks the great diversity which exists within the sector. Some artisanal gold miners are undoubtedly irresponsible and uninterested in formalising (as indeed are many medium-scale operations), but equally there are others who comply fully with all local legislation. These, more responsible, operations have better working practices than their illegal counterparts and make use of cleaner technologies to process gold, dramatically reducing their environmental impact. Operating somewhere between these two extremes are many miners actively seeking to formalise their operations, but who have not yet proved able to overcome the significant challenges involved. This report argues that recognition of this diversity will be a key first step in allowing the government to develop adequate policies to effectively interact with the sector. The current policy of criminalisation, on the contrary, risks undermining an industry which represents one of the few viable sources of income for the country's impoverished groups.

To read the full report, click here.