Located in the center of the world, the small territory of Ecuador ranks among the most biodiverse countries in the world. Beneath its lush hills and rivers lie veins of gold first discovered in the 1500s.
Mining activity has taken place in the country since then, at a small scale. Mining currently makes up 1.6 percent of Ecuador’s gross domestic product, but experts recognize a high mining potential and in recent years the country has begun shifting toward promoting a larger, more responsible mining sector.
planetGOLD project sites in Ecuador
Today more than 32,000 people in Ecuador work in mining, which has historically been exclusively small-scale and artisanal. Since most artisanal mining processes in the country are unautomated and labor-intensive, the majority of actors in the supply chain are directly employed in mining. The biggest advantage of Ecuador’s productive artisanal sector is its contributions to regional development and toward mitigating the exodus of workers from rural areas to city centers.
At the same time, the artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector faces significant opportunities for improvement. Miners have limited access to technology, precarious working conditions, lack of technical knowledge, low production performance, and poor legal and institutional formalization. It is also associated with pollution caused by dangerous chemical substances such as mercury.
As the expansion of the extractive sector increases, urgent actions are needed to support formalization and responsible mining approaches, promote associativity, and increase financing for ASGM and related sectors.
Key Figures from Ecuador
32,000+ people are employed in the mining sector
11,000+ people's livelihoods depend on ASGM
4% of GDP is expected to be produced by mining by 2021
3,200 women are employed in mining
With the objective of contributing to Ecuador’s National Development Plan of the Mining Sector and promoting responsible mining, under the Minamata Convention, the National Program for Chemical Management seeks to contribute to the formalization and associative processes of ASGM. The program, which is a planetGOLD partner project, is promoting the creation of financial opportunities for the sector that allow recognition and promotion of good, mercury-free practices, through the implementation of tools and technical knowledge that enable the production of gold in an appropriate manner.
The program also recognizes that the mining system stands out for the feminization of poverty and the undervaluation of female work. In accordance with the gender approach promoted by the United Nations, the program will seek to change these cultural patterns linked to the sector that negatively affect women. The proposal seeks to involve women, especially Jancheras (women working in the dumps outside the mines, selecting the waste mineral) in the training spaces provided by the project, to identify their needs and promote two sustainable ventures that are led by them. This context invites us to understand mining not only as a work, but as a structure of symbolic, political, economic and cultural relations.
The program in Ecuador aims to reduce the use and releases of mercury from ASGM by 2 tons, train at least 350 miners, improve the selling price for responsibly-produced gold, and create industrial incentives and competitive fund mechanisms to increase access to financing for miners.
Establish mercury-free technologies
Establish financial mechanism
Market responsibly mined mercury-free gold
Educate and raise awareness
Ecuador’s National Program for Chemical Management, a planetGOLD partner project, is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources through the Vice Ministry of Mining.
Ana María Nuñez