Once Destructive Gold Miners Now Working Overtime To Restore Thousands Of Acres Of The Amazon Rainforest

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In the Madre de Dios region of southern Peru, a remarkable environmental transformation is underway, thanks to the efforts of small, artisanal gold miners and the environmental NGO Pure Earth.

Once notorious for their destructive methods of gold extraction, which involved slashing and burning vast acres of jungle and using mercury, these miners have now shifted their focus towards restoring the land they once exploited and adopting cleaner mining practices.

Pure Earth’s project in Madre de Dios seeks to achieve what local and national governments failed to accomplish through aggressive legislation and police raids.

Recognizing that the miners, primarily from the Andes regions, did not take pleasure in destroying pristine rainforest, and despite the surge in gold prices following the 2008 Financial Crisis, they were operating on “a lot of stick but not much carrot,” Pure Earth gradually gained their trust to set up a pilot program aimed at reforestation and sustainable mining practices.


66-year-old miner, Pedro Ynfantes, whose legal mining concession of 1,110 acres included a 10-acre patch of land for the pilot program, told NPR, “It feels good to see the forest grow back. We don’t want to deforest. When we had the opportunity to let the forest grow back, we took it. It’s much better this way.”

The project involves planting a biodiverse rainforest on the land excavated by the miners and replacing the use of toxic mercury with more sanitary methods of gold extraction. Dozens of understory and canopy services are now growing on the reclaimed land, each tagged with scientific and local names to raise awareness and foster a sense of responsibility among the miners.

Madre de Dios, bordering Brazil, Bolivia, and other Peruvian parts of the Amazon Basin, is renowned for its biodiversity and is home to various tribal groups, and even according to legend, a lost city of the Inca.

However, it also suffers from some of the highest rates of mercury poisoning in the world due to artisanal gold mining activities. This has led to developmental delays in children, neurological problems, lung and kidney damage, and immune system dysfunction.


Pure Earth’s efforts have yielded significant results. Four artisanal and small-scale gold mining communities in Madre de Dios have achieved internationally recognized Fairmined Certification, indicating that their mining practices are minimally damaging to the environment and human health. This certification is earned through reforestation efforts coupled with a transition away from mercury use in gold extraction.

Since 2014, over 1.7 tons of certified gold have been sold to the international market, benefiting more than 3,000 miners from certified mining organizations, as per Pure Earth. In return for their commitment to responsible mining practices, these organization have received over 7 million dollars of Fairmined premium. This economic recognition validates their dedication and provides a compelling incentive for continued investments in technical enhancements to minimize the environmental impact of gold mining.

The success of Pure Earth’s initiative in Madre de Dios demonstrates that sustainable and responsible mining practices are not only feasible but also economically beneficial.

By restoring the land and adopting cleaner extraction methods, the miners are not only protecting the environment but also safeguarding the health of their community and contributing to global efforts to combat mercury pollution and preserve biodiversity in the Amazon Basin.

See the incredible story of how these miners changed their tune for the betterment of the environment.

 

 

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