Coexistence between large-scale mining and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM): In Colombia, we are leading the way
During the past years, we, at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, have been taking the lead towards an enormous paradigm shift on how to approaching and understanding the relationship between different types of mining operations throughout our territory. We have gone from seeing an inevitable conflict between large-scale mining and ASM to working on new arrangements that let us find common ground between the different actors involved. By using a combination of innovative and renewed tools, we are betting on something that seemed unthinkable until a few years ago: seeing large companies working hand-in-hand with those who, one way or another, wish to continue making a living by carrying out extractive activities during the post-conflict period.
This refocus was indispensable and remains even more so when, during the first decade of the current century, certain state actions contributed to sharpening the regional conflicts surrounding mining activities due to an all-time record high in the issuing of titles that, unfortunately, also included an unprecedented exclusion of traditional miners.
The purpose of this blog is to tell from both, a technical and social perspective, how we have enabled this radical change in focus that provides us with daily examples of its successful application throughout the national territory.
What are the new instruments that we have used in order to achieve this significant progress? In general, they can be classified in the following three groups: a) access to territories for small-scale mining, b) promoting formalization, and c) frontal attack on criminal activities.
The first group, based on access to territories for small-scale mining, that guarantee that small-scale miners can work within a framework of legality, consists of: 1) contracts for small-scale mining operations, 2) sub-contracts for mining formalization, 3) special reserve areas for small-scale mining (ARES, in Spanish), as the first step for granting mining titles, 4) cession of areas for formalization, by which a mining title holder can provide small-scale miners with areas that are outside of his interest, in order to let them work with his support, and 5) creating the Bank of Mining Formalization Areas, which gives priority to small-scale miners within a certain zone for the purpose of granting titles that have either expired or abandoned by their holders.
The second group, based on promoting formalization, includes: 1) mining and environmental guides, which have led to improvements in extractive practices even before formally beginning the licensing process, 2) differential oversight, which enables miner outreach beyond a policing approach and provides support for progressive compliance with operational regulations, and 3) multipurpose support actions, by means of the articulation between environmental, academic, financial and control entities, with the aim of providing guarantees for small-scale miners nationwide through the formalization process, which enables access to indispensable elements for their work, ranging from easy access to explosives to better terms for obtaining financing and exporting minerals without resorting to intermediaries.
The last group, based on a frontal attack on criminal activities, consists of 1) the possibility of confiscating and destroying the heavy machinery used for illegal extraction activities, which has persuaded many miners to begin conversations with the State in order to differentiate their activities from those of violent groups, and 2) the creation of the Single Registry for Commercialization (RUCOM), which has allowed the mining authority to combat a practice used by criminal groups who employ registrations belonging to subsistence miners, or those of other unsuspecting individuals, in order to legalize large quantities of gold that, evidently, cannot be extracted by using “barequeo”( artisanal gold-panning).
Clearly, these three groups of instruments converge on a single common purpose: thinking not only in terms of legalization, but also expanding our focus in terms of formalization. This new approach continues to leave room for coercive actions, those that a State must frequently rely on, but it also provides a special opportunity for innovative actions, which allow our views of mining to go beyond the simplistic approach of seeing an inevitable confrontation between the largest and smallest mining activities. New realities and the successful implementation of new solutions serve as proof that coexistence and the formalization of ASM make up the best path for fighting against the illegal extraction of minerals in our country.