The Oro Verde program is based on a bottom-up certification scheme that differentiates responsibly mined gold and platinum so they can be sold as green and fair metals in specialized market niches; thus improving miners’ access to global markets. The certification scheme for the socially and environmentally sustainable extraction of precious metals is based on the compliance of 10 criteria which were developed in association with the mining communities and under the guidance of experts in different areas.
The Choco Bioregion
The Biogeographic Chocó is a special region in northwest South America. It is one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots and has a great cultural heritage due to the numerous indigenous communities that inhabit it. Its natural exuberance includes abundant deposits of alluvial gold and platinum, and this wealth has historically linked the region’s development to the exploitation of natural resources.
Unfortunately irresponsible practices have caused the destruction of this rich ecosystem and the exploitation of its inhabitants. This is how within this prosperity we find one of the poorest states in Colombia: Chocó, a state where 79% of the population suffers from unsatisfied basic needs (according to 2005 official data).
Incentives for environmental protection
Around 700 artisanal miners in Tadó and Condoto (Chocó, Colombia) comply with Oro Verde criteria when they extract their metals. The payment of a premium for their metals works as an economic instrument that places value on the conservation and restoration of environmental services and fosters fair, and sustainable alternatives for artisanal mining communities. The possibility of working with better prices creates an incentive for cleaner production processes and forges social networks that integrate the economy with ecology and society. The sustainable use of natural resources is thus at the heart of this initiative. It promotes sustainable practices and in doing so it discourages irresponsible practices that imply soil and water pollution with mercury and cyanide, massive deforestation of tropical rainforest and the creation of pits that become water reservoirs and home to disease vector.
This is how Oro Verde protects around 4,500 Ha of a highly diverse eco-region and miners receive better prices for their metals, diversify their productive activities and increase their food security (through complementary programs). Moreover, their leadership and organizational skills are stronger, and miners are now recognized as responsible citizens who actively contribute to the well-being of their communities, to the protection of their ecosystems and to the prevention of health problems associated with irresponsible mining practices.
The importance of Community Participation
The Community Councils of Condoto and Tadó, representing approximately 30,000 people have also been strengthened throughout this process. In Oro Verde, community participation has been crucial in terms of the program’s social and environmental sustainability. The initiative seeks to have the miners assume the project as their own, and to have them struggle to keep it going. At the same time, the strengthening of the Community Councils, of their managerial and negotiation capacities, is also fundamental. It is them, as administrators of collective territories of Afro Colombian communities, who represent the key actors for the sustainability of the initiative in the region.
This program is a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable model and as such it represents an opportunity for other mining communities in Chocó and around the world. To broaden its impact we joined forces with international institutions to create the Alliance for Responsible Mining (in 2004). ARM’s main purpose is to facilitate the replica of certification models in artisanal and small scale mining communities, together with access to fair trade and ethically responsible markets, as tools to promote more responsible mining practices. This has contributed to the inclusion of responsible small scale mining in the international agenda and created demand for the replica of similar models in other parts of the world.
Today Oro Verde metals are sold in Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, among other countries. We project growing sales to achieve financial sustainability and begin the program’s expansion. However, worldwide replica is already on the way through the creation of the Alliance for Responsible Mining.