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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Transformative Storytelling: The Power of Documentary Film to Help Reduce Gold Mining in the Peruvian Amazon

With support from ConDev, Dr. Amanda Stronza, Associate Professor in the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Department at Texas A&M University is working with Shift Creative Agency to document the stories, first-hand accounts, and testimonials of people connected to, affected by, and seeking to solve the gold mining crisis in Peru. Their aim is reduce gold mining and its devastating effects on communities and ecosystems in the Amazon. They are focusing on Madre de Dios, Peru, and on the social conflicts in and around the illicit gold mining trade in the region. The topic and concern is central to the mission of Conflict and Development, especially given precedence with the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) attention on gold mining in Indonesia as well as in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

They will share the results of the investigation through film. They will use two distinct narrative approaches to illuminate the gold mining crisis and the quest for solutions in the fragile and conflict-ridden region of Madre de Dios, Peru.

The Guardians, a feature-length (90-110 minutes) documentary: The first is a comprehensive feature-length documentary that interweaves first-hand accounts of frontline activists, and interviews with leading scientists to present multiple stakeholder point-of-views, emphasizing the global context of gold mining and the loss of biodiversity on our planet. We envision this film having wide distribution on a major network or streaming platform, such as Netflix.

The Sanctuary, a short (20 minute) documentary: Second, we envision a poetic, character-driven short documentary featuring Victor Zambrano, recipient of the Buffett Award for Conservation, and a grassroots hero of Madre de Dios, as he approaches the end of his career and seeks to pass on his mission to the next generation.

Both films will serve the larger goal of bringing global attention to the devastation caused by illegal gold mining, as well as championing the heroes working to save this vital ecosystem. Through film, we will amplify local voices and build support for the conservation efforts of local, regional, international organizations.

Gold Mining and Conflict

Aside from deforestation, soil depletion, water contamination, and public health crises, gold mining brings conflict. Social conflicts are often created when miners migrate from other regions and come into contact with local residents (Salman and De Theije 2017). However, gold mining can bring conflict on all levels--between governments and citizens, between environmentalists and miners, between land holders and land grabbers, between indigenous people and outsiders, and between the powerful and the least powerful. Gold mining can serve to deepen racism, entrench social inequality, and perpetuate or escalate violence against women and indigenous people. Illegal mining is well-documented as being financed by and connected with other illicit activities, including organized crime, child labor, and human trafficking. As transnational syndicates move into and take control of isolated and remote areas, places where government and governance are scarce, local residents are at the mercy of powerful and violent gangs. The recourse is to flee, though most people have no resources or support. The alternative is to succumb to working in the industry. The most deeply affected by these dismal choices are those with the least power or voice--women, children, and the poor.

Gold Mining in Peru

Peru’s economy over the last decade has been fueled partly by high prices in mining. As gold prices have increased, so too has illegal gold mining. Madre de Dios, a region of the southern Peruvian Amazon, known as the “Biodiversity Capital of the World,” has lost over 60,000 hectares to gold mining (Charity et al. 2016). The region has had two gold rushes, first in the 1980s and more recently since the completion of the Transoceanic Highway in 2008 (Webster 2012). Peru supplies 10% of the global demand for gold; 70% of that comes from small scale gold mining in Madre de Dios (World Gold Council 2016).

Most of the mining in carried out by heavy machinery known as “dragas” and suction pumps, which excavate the soil and release liquid mercury. Here as in most Amazon communities, freshwater fish is a main source of food, livelihood, and cultural tradition. Local annual fish consumption is estimated to be six times the global average (Costello et. al 2013).  A 2011 study by the Peruvian National Water Authority showed mercury concentrations in Madre de Dios as 170 times higher than recommended limits for drinking water (Fikri et al. 2018).


For more information about this project, please contact: Dr. Amanda Stronza
Associate Professor
Texas A&M University
(512) 201-5177

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