By Paula Dupraz-Dobias
What does it take to produce gold sustainably? It’s not easy, as a visit to a Peruvian mine joining the Swiss-backed Better Gold Initiative (BGI) shows.
The street-side calls to enter business locales in the Peruvian town of Juliaca felt distantly akin to restaurant hawkers found in tourist resorts around the world, except that the salespeople are traders trying to lure sellers of gold from the many informal mines in the southeastern region of Puno, and beyond.
Little of the trading taking place here is legal, following Peruvian legislation or any number of international environmental agreements such as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and associated crime is rife in this town.
Asking too many questions about the source of gold purchased here is therefore not well received.
“If others find out that you are here and asking questions, they will lynch you,” a trader warns.
From alpaca herders to open-pit miners
Some 150 kilometres away in Ananea, at the altitude of 4,700 metres, much of the mountainous landscape has been stripped bare, excavated right across the vast formerly grassy highlands in the scramble for the valuable mineral.
This is the site of CECOMIP, a legal mining cooperative started in 2006 by members of the local community who previously lived from alpaca herding.
The miners, drawn by a boom in gold prices, began excavating under their ancestral lands in search of the mineral and brought trucks and excavators to accelerate and facilitate the pursuit.