Transforming The Chichiqueros Gold Mining Community In Peru’s Rainforest Into A Mercury-Free Model

 

Earlier this year, Pure Earth launched an ambitious project supported by Brilliant Earth, the global leader in ethically sourced fine jewelry.  The goal: to transform the Chichiqueros artisanal gold mining community into a mercury-free model.  The Chichiqueros work in an area in Peru’s rainforest that was placed under a state of emergency in 2016 due to uncontrolled mercury contamination. The project is now at its half-way point.  Pure Earth intern for Latin America, Charlie Espinosa, has the following update:

A meeting with the Chichiqueros mining community earlier this year.

Many artisanal gold miners working in Madre de Dios, Peru, are forced to make a big sacrifice for a small reward: they unwittingly poison their families and contaminate their communities with mercury just to extract a minute return of gold.

For this reason, the miners are known locally as the “Chichiqueros,” which comes from the word “chiquito,” meaning tiny.

Now, the Chichiqueros are taking big steps to change all that.  With the help of the Pure Earth team in Peru, they are moving towards their goal of becoming legitimate and mercury-free.

Some of the participants in our first mercury-free training workshop for the Chichiqueros community.

Working with the Chichiqueros mining association, which consists of 400 miners who often work together with their families, Pure Earth has conducted two out of three planned training sessions to teach miners the Benguet method–a mercury-free process that allows miners to extract more gold without the need for mercury or expensive machinery.

A training workshop in session.

The Benguet method was used in the Philippines a century ago, and recently rediscovered by Filipino miner Leoncio Na-Oy. Over the past few years, Pure Earth has been working with Leoncio to test and teach the Benguet method to miners worldwide.

After crossing a river and tangle of backcountry roads, the Pure Earth team arrived on January 24th in the rainforest region of Huepetuhe, home of the Chichiqueros, to begin the first training session. More than 40 Chichiqueros attended.

Crossing of the Inambari River to reach Huepetuhe

Among those present were Pure Earth project coordinator France Cabanillas, technical specialist Percy Ponce from the Center for Research in Environmental Health, and Javier Cosme, a miner from Lima who was trained by Leoncio at an earlier Pure Earth workshop. 

Miners crowd together to watch a demonstration.

The following morning, word of the training spread via an interview with the project team and the president of the Chichiquero Mining Association, Cirilo Espinal, on the local Huepetuhe radio program Habla Claro.

Thanks to the radio interview and word-of-mouth, many miners not affiliated with the Chichiquero Association showed up to the trainings to learn more about the mercury-free method. This was a key point of success for the project, given that Pure Earth’s mission is to establish widespread change.

Miners practice panning.

“As miners learn new methods, they spread their knowledge. So we are working to create a domino effect, transforming one community at a time,” explains Richard Fuller, President of Pure Earth.

At this first training session, the team demonstrated and explained the mercury-free Benguet method to chichiqueros in three different sites in the Huepetuhe area. The chichiqueros from each locale were enthusiastic about the new method, which will allow them to operate in their own households without poisoning their family with mercury.

Women miners are often the most eager to learn and then teach the mercury-free method to their peers.

Following a productive and busy three days, the project team selected three Chichiquero miners, who were especially apt and enthusiastic learners, to teach the method to other community members.

Small flecks of gold can be seen after proper panning.

This is mixed with non-toxic borax, and then burned off, leaving behind the gold.

These Chichiqueros will be fundamental in the next two training sessions, one of which took place last week and was a success. More details and images from the second session will be available in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Pure Earth project coordinator France Cabanillas (right) presents a certificate to a miner who just completed a mercury-free training session.

Lunch with miners in Quebrada Huayruro, one of several sites in the district where trainings were conducted

Learn more:

In Photos: Teaching Artisanal Gold Miners To Extract Gold Without Mercury

Peru: Emerging From A State of Emergency In The Labyrinth

In Peru – A Path Of Gold And Destruction

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