Technography of small-scale gold mining in the Amazon

//Technography of small-scale gold mining in the Amazon
Technography of small-scale gold mining in the Amazon 2018-06-18T19:25:35+00:00

Technography of small-scale gold mining in the Amazon

Authors: Leontien Cremers and Luciana Massaro (2018)

Technography can be considered as an ethnography of technology. It is proposed by Jansen et al. (2011) and others as an interdisciplinary methodology for the detailed study of the use of skills, tools, knowledge and techniques in everyday life, especially for the integrative study of social-technical configurations. Where ethnography is used in the social sciences to account for the detailed description of human X human interaction, accordingly, technography can be regarded as a descriptive social science of technology that examines human X machine/tool interaction.

This methodology is useful within the GOMIAM project context, where both anthropologists and (mining) engineers have been working together on research and policy advice in the period 2011-2016 on several topics related to small-scale gold mining in the Amazon, with a focus on situations of conflict and cooperation in this sector. Mining technology is at the basis of the mining process, but it was clearly felt in the project that it could never be looked at without considering the human component and the wider socio-economic and political context at the same time. Therefore, the GOMIAM researchers set out to develop and execute a research methodology that we would like to call a technography of small-scale gold mining in four Amazon countries: Suriname, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.

The main results of this research are presented below, but first some quick details on the methodology and research steps taken:

Methodology

In order to be able to execute comparative research in four different countries the following research elements were developed and written down in a manual:

  1. Questionnaire for miners (with multiple choice questions)
  2. List of questions for local expert miners (with open ended questions)
  3. A video assignment to be executed on each research location
  4. Guide for conducting group discussions based on the first technology research results

First step: Research in Suriname

First, the research was executed by a multi-disciplinary group of researchers in Suriname, in the period 13-22 January 2016. The group was composed of two mining engineers, a fishery engineer, an anthropologist, a geologist, a water engineer, two master students and a bachelor student of the mining group of the Anton de Kom University Paramaribo. This group managed to conduct in total 56 questionnaires (A.) with a group of 6 interviewees (MT, RF, BY, RB, SE,PC), around six interviews (B.) with local expert miners, shoot many videos of the mining practices (C.) in the research area and conduct two group discussions (D.). Besides, a technical characterization of the mining sites was done by the Brazilian mining engineer in the team, by means of an additional questionnaire, executed by him and the students.

Next step: Comparative research

After this, the research methodology was shared with the GOMIAM country teams in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Here, resp. 30, 10 and 24 questionnaires were done with miners, also a number of videos were made.

This allows us to compare technology research outcomes in the different GOMIAM countries. The results are presented below, after presenting the four different research areas.

Description of the four research areas and its mining population

Suriname

In Suriname we interviewed a group of 56 respondents divided over 10 mining sites in three different locations: Balingsoula, Brownsweg en Sarakreek.

Brazil

In Brazil, 25 miners were interviewed in the garimpo of Lourenço, near Macapá, Amapá State.

Peru

In Peru 30 respondents were interviewed in eight different concessions in the vicinity of Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Madre de Dios Department.

Bolivia

In Bolivia only ten respondents were interviewed all part of the ASOBAL cooperative in Riberalta, Beni Department. Since this number was so low, we decided not to include them in this report.

Suriname

8.2 Surinam corrected

In Suriname, the miners population is still relatively young. 41% of the respondents is between 20-30 years old. 39% is between 31-40 years old. (N=54)

Brazil

8.2Brazil

In Brazil, the miners population interviewed is older: 29% of the interviewed miners is between 51-60 years old. (N=24)

Peru

8.2 Peru corrected

In Peru, the majority of miners interviewed is between 31-40 years old (57%). (N=30)

Age of the miners

Suriname

8.3Surinam

In Surinam, 61% of the miners have been working between 1-10 years in the mine. 26% Says to have been working between 11-20 years. (N=54)

Brazil

8.3Brazil

In Brazil, the miners have longer working records in the mine. 33% has been working between 11-20 years, 29% has been working between 21-30 years and 25% has been working between 31-40 years in the mine. (N=24)

Peru

8.3Peru

In Peru almost all miners (90%) have been working between 1-10 years in the mine. (N=30)

Years working in the mine

Suriname

8.5Surinam

In Suriname, 37% of the miners attended primary school, 45% went to secundary school and 7% went to secundary school for adults. (N=54)

Brazil

8.4

In Brazil, 29% of the miners attended primary school, 34% went to secundary school and 21% went to secundary school for adults. (N=24)

Peru

8.5Peru

In Peru, 7% of the miners went to primary school, 38% attended secondary school and 55% says to have attended another type of school. We still need to ask our Peruvian researcher which type this is. (N=29)

Level of education

Suriname

8.6 Surinam correct

Most people who work in the mines are called pitworkers, but there are also other roles in the mines. In Suriname, 49% of the interviewed miners are pitworkers, 34% is machine owner, 10% is supervisor. (N=55)

Brazil

8.6Brazil

In Brazil, 27% is pitworker, 27% is supervisor, 23% is machine owner, 14% is kitchen helper, 9% is machine operator. (N=24)

Peru

8.6 Peru corrected

In Peru, 38% of the interviewed miners is pitworker, 28% is machine operator and 10% is supervisor. (N=29)

Role in the mine

Suriname

8.7Surinam

It is clear that most miners in Suriname, but also in Brazil and Peru, work in the mines because it is financially attractive. (N=55)

Brazil

8.7Brazil

(N=21)

Peru

8.7Peru

(N=29)

Reason to work in the mine

Suriname

8.8 Surinam corrected

In Suriname, 54% of the miners do mechanised alluvial mining. 33% answered with other, such as…. (N=54)

Brazil

8.8Brazil

In Brazil, 40% of the interviewed miners work in underground mining, 32% on mechanised alluvial mining, and 22% works on processed material. (N=21)

Peru

8.8 Peru corrected

In Peru, all interviewed miners work on mechanised alluvial mining. (N=29)

Type of mining performed

Results of the technography questionnaire

The process of gold extraction involves several phases and entails the use of several tools: from simple and manual ones (such as the gold pan), to more sophisticated and mechanized ones (such as the excavator). This technography tries to give more insight in these phases and features in the countries under study.

The choice of a particular extraction process and relative tools depends mainly on the type of gold deposit. In geology, the colluvial deposit is a primary sediment constituted by gold embedded in quartzite rocks; whereas the alluvial deposit is a secondary sediment where gold, due to rocks erosion, is washed away and deposited along watercourses (Cleary, 1990). Small-scale gold mining is usually devoted to secondary deposits as the gold, concentrated by gravity processes, is free and easy to extract.

For this technography, the following phases and aspects were identified and querried:

  1. Prospection
  2. Opening a mine pit
  3. Gold extraction
  4. Gold concentration
  5. Socio-cultural issues
  6. Visions for the future

1. Prospection

Deciding where to dig a mine represents the first phase of the whole operation and identifying a mining target requires gathering data about the geology, the chemistry and the physics of a specific area (Moon et al., 2006). Usually, knowing the size and quality of a deposit inevitably implies two types of underground investigation: a prospection and a physical exploration (Lins, 1992).

In order to find the exact target of drilling, the prospection phase requires a detailed report based the geological mapping of the area. The procedure of geological mapping is based on the location of the surface mineralization and although this is usually assessed by geologists, it can also be determined by less formally trained people. In fact, the outcrop of a mineral deposit can be identified by some anomalies or specific characteristics on the ground (such as a very different appearance of parts of soil from the surrounding rocks). Interestingly, despite the accuracy of more high-tech survey methods, there is no formal obstacle that hinders a miner from the discovery of a deposit (Lins, 1992). Often, having an experienced “eye for ore” constitutes the only requirement (Moon et al., 2006). Artisanal gold miners commonly rely on this kind of reconnaissance techniques as the high complexity of the task and the prohibitive operative costs do not allow other more sophisticated methods.

1.1 How do you decide where to mine?

Suriname

1.1Surinam

In Surinam, 64% of the respondents said they decide where to mine, by looking for gold containing material in the ground. (N=54)

Brazil

1.1Brazil

Whereas in Brazil, 35% say they go by chance, 24% has other answers and only 22% says to look for gold containing material in the ground. (N=23)

Peru

1.1Peru

In Peru, 40% says to look for gold containing material in the ground, while 20% says they follow others. (N=30)

1.2 Which tools do you use?

Suriname

1.2Surinam

Most miners in Surinam say they use a goldpan for prospection (42%), but there is also a group that uses an excavator (30%). In some cases a metal detector is used (13%). (N=56)

Brazil

1.2Brazil

In Brazil, 32% uses a gold pan, 25% say they use another tool (which one?). Also the excavator is used (19%). (N=21)

Peru

1.2Peru

In Peru, 55% of the respondents say they use another tool, such as a shovel, a ‘machete’, ‘cuya’, ‘barreta’, ‘varrilla’, ‘fierro’. 22% Uses a gold pan, 18% say they do not know what tool is used for prospection. (N=30)

1.3 Would you like to improve this method?

Suriname

1.3Surinam

In Surinam, 39% of the respondents would like to change their prospection methods, saying there are better methods, experts could be invited or by using an excavator to speed up the process. The 44% saying they do not want to change, claim there is no other or better method, or that they are used to doing it this way. (N=52)

Brazil

1.3Brazil

In Brazil, 61% says they would like to change, against 27% who do not. The ones who want to change often say they want a more specific prospection, or by using new technology and machinery. (N=23)

Peru

1.3Peru

In Peru, also 60% says they want to change their prospection method, mainly to speed up the process and make it more easy, by using machines and new technology. (N=30)

1.4 Who can help to improve prospection?

Suriname

1.5Surinam

When asked who can help to improve, in Suriname 27% says ‘others’ (answers?), 23% say geologists, and 12 says the bank. (N=48)

Brazil

1.5Brazil

In Peru, 31% says Other (Answers?), 21% says geologists and 15% says investors can help. (N=21)

Peru

1.5Peru

In Peru, 45% answers that the landowner could help, but also investors (28%) and geologists (7%). (N=30)

2. Opening a new mine pit

The geological anomalies identified during the prospection phase need to be confirmed with a following physical exploration of the soil. During the prospection, any deep inspection is formally required, whereas the physical exploration demands an underground examination through pitting, trenching and specific drilling. Often these actions are destructive to the environment as target sites may be deforested and left exposed without vegetation or any topsoil left (Hilson, 2002)

2.1 Which tools you use to open a mine pit?

Suriname

2.1Surinam

Tools that are used in Suriname to open a mine pit are buldozer/tractor (63%), explosives (19%), excavator (8%) and a pump (7%). (N=52)

Brazil

2.1Brazil

In Brazil, mostly excavators are used (31%), but also buldozers/tractors (20%), explosives (18%) and hammers (15%). (N=22)

Peru

2.1Peru

In Peru, 53% uses excavators, 32% uses explosives (check!) and 15% uses a pump. (N=30)

2.2 Would you like to improve this method?

Suriname

2.2Surinam

When asked in Suriname if they wanted to improve this method, 45% answered positively and 33% answered with no. (N=54)

Brazil

2.2Brazil

In Brazil, 67% said they wanted to improve this method, and 15% said they did not. (N=21)

Peru

2.2Peru

In Peru, 76% wants to improve this method, and 17% does not want to improve it. (N=30)

2.3 Why don't you improve this method?

Suriname

2.3Surinam

60% Says to lack money to be able to improve this method, 20% did not give an answer and 12% does not know how. (N=27)

Brazil

opvulplaatje

In Brazil, only 5 miners responded, too little to consider the results in this research. (N=5)

Peru

2.3Peru

In Peru, 33% claims that improvement is impossible because they lack technology, 23% says it is a lack of resources, 20% state another reason (check which ones) and 17% does not know how to improve this method. (N=24)

3. Extraction phase

Seccatore and de Theije (2017, p.110) describe the process of extraction on secondary deposit as follows: “in hydraulic mining an engine is connected to a double-action pump, which provides pressing and suction actions. The pressing action feeds a water monitor with a high-pressure flow of water. An operator manoeuvres the monitor to direct the water jet on the soil to loosen the consolidated or semi-consolidated material. The pulp of water and loose material is then sucked up a pipe by the suction action of the pump. The pulp is then pumped over sluice boxes. An excavator usually removes the overburden (generally silt and clay), exposing the material of interest (usually sand or sandy silt) that is mined by hydraulic means”.

3.1 Which tools do you use for extraction?

Suriname

3.1Surinam

In Peru, 71% of the miners use mechanized methods to extract the gold from the soil. the remaining 29% only uses manual methods. (N=55)

Brazil

3.1Brazil

In Brazil, the majority of miners (81%) uses manual methods, versus 19% using mechanised methods. (N=24)

Peru

3.1Peru

In Peru, all miners use mechanised methods (100%). (N=30)

3.2 Where do you get these tools?

Suriname

3.2Surinam

In Suriname, 69% of the miners say they get their tools from the city, paid for with cash. 13% buy from local stores, paid with cash, and 10% comes from the forest. (N=54)

Brazil

3.2Brazil

In Brazil, 59% of the miners say they get their materials from local stores, paid for with cash, 32% say they get it in the city and 5% say they buy it with gold in local stores. (N=24)

Peru

3.2Peru

In Peru, 87% say they buy tools from the city with cash, 7% buy from local stores. (N=30)

3.3 Why did you choose this method?

Suriname

3.3Surinam

In Suriname, 48% state that they have always used this method, 30% say it is the best method to use, 11% say they are bound by certain rules and 10% says they do it like this because everybody else does. (N=54)

Brazil

3.3Brazil

In Brasil, 50% also say the use this method because everybody else does, 20% state they have always done it like this and 15% states that financial restrictions make them use this method. (N=22)

Peru

3.3Peru

In Peru, 38% state that they have always used this method, 20% says they use it because everybody else does and 18% state that they use it because it is the best method. (N=30)

3.4 Would you like to improve this method?

Suriname

3.4Surinam

(N=52)

Brazil

3.4Brazil

(N=23)

Peru

3.4Peru

(N=30)

4. Concentration or processing

“Two systems of mineral processing may occur: i) simple sluice boxes or ii) crusher, sluice and copper plates. With the first method, the excavated material is directly pumped in pulp with water on to sluice boxes. Sluice boxes can be covered with carpets or metal mesh or a combination of both. Mercury can be added directly in the sluices or later in the concentrate extracted from carpets and metal mesh. With the second method, the excavated material is crushed in a hammer crusher and then sent in pulp to flow over sluice boxes and copper plates” (from Seccatore and de Theije, 2017, p.110).

4.1 How do you process the gold-containing material?

Suriname

4.1Surinam

In Suriname, 43% of the miners empty the sluicebox and add mercury before concentrating the gold in a bucket. 22% do the same without adding mercury and 17% uses a goldpan to concentrate the gold. (N=53)

Brazil

4.1Brazil

In Brazil, 57% of the miners uses a gold pan for gold concentration and 20% adds mercury to the gold pan for concentration purposes. (N=24)

Peru

4.1Peru

In Peru, 77% of the miners empty the sluicebox and empty mercury before they concentrate the gold using a bucket, 10% does so without adding mercury. 7% uses a goldpan and mercury. (N=29)

4.2 Would you like to improve this method?

Suriname

4.2Surinam

(N=53)

Brazil

4.2Brazil

(N=22)

Peru

4.2Peru

(N=30)

4.3 Why don't you improve it?

Suriname

4.3Surinam

In Suriname, 34% of the miners say they it’s the lack of money that keeps them from improving the technology. 31% Say it is a lack of technological option, 28% say it is a lack of knowledge.  (N=14)

Brazil

opvulplaatje

(N=12, no pie chart)

Peru

4.3Peru

In Peru, 37% of the miners state that it is a lack of technology that keeps them from improving the technology. 32% Say it is a lack of money. (N=27)

4.4 Do you use an enclosed recipient to wash the gold concentrate?

Suriname

4.4Surinam

(N=53)

Brazil

4.4Brazil

(N=22)

Peru

3.1Peru

(N=30)

4.4b Why don't you use an enclosed recipient to wash the gold concentrate?

Suriname

4.4b Surinam corrected

In Suriname, 69% of the miners say it is not necessary to an enclosed recipient. 26% Says it takes too much time to do this and 5% do not know how to do it. (N=19)

Brazil

Everyone in Brazil uses an enclosed recipient. (N=0)

Peru

4.4b Peru

In Peru, 57% of the miners give a range of reasons why they do not use an enclosed recipient: such as, there is no appropriate space, we just do it like this, nobody complains. (N=23)

4.5 Who processes the gold concentrate?

Suriname

4.5Surinam

In Suriname, 38% of the miners respond saying that everyone in the team processes the gold concentrate in rotation, 35% state the workers process it and 26% says it is the boss himself who does it. (N=52)

Brazil

4.5_okBrazil

In Brazil, 48% of the miners state that the gold concentrate is processed in rotation, 33% say it is donde by the boss and 13% say it is the machine owner who does it. (N=24)

Peru

4.5Peru

In Peru, 57% of the miners state it is the machine owner who processes the gold concentrate, 22% say it is done by the workers themselves and 18% says it is done by everyone in rotation. (N=30)

4.6 Do you use personal protection when processing the gold concentrate?

Suriname

4.6Surinam

(N=53)

Brazil

4.6Brazil

(N=24)

Peru

4.6Peru

(N=30)

4.6b If yes, what do you use?

Suriname

4.6Surinamb

In Suriname, 39% of the miners use gloves, 38% use mouth and nose protection, 15% uses a mask and only 8% uses a retort. (N=13)

Brazil

4.6Brazilb

In Brazil, 38% uses a mask, 31% use other protection measures, such as a helmet, protection glasses and long sleeves, and 29% uses gloves. (N=11)

Peru

4.6b Peru

In Peru, 60% of the miners use a retort, 20% use mouth and nose protection and 13% store their mercury in a safe place. (N=15)

4.7 If not, why not?

Suriname

4.7Surinam

(N=42)

Brazil

opvulplaatje

(N=6, no pie chart)

Peru

4.7 Peru

(N=14)

Questionnaire results for 5. Socio-cultural issues

5.1 Do you maintain your family with your mining income?

Suriname

(N=54)

Brazil

(N=23)

Peru

(N=30)

5.2 How do you invest your money?

Suriname

(N=53)

Brazil

no pie chart (N=23)

Peru

(N=30)

5.5 Whose land do you work on?

Suriname

(N=54)

Brazil

(N=24)

Peru

(N=30)

Questionnaire results for 6. Visions for the future

6.1 How do you see the future of small-scale gold mining in your country

Suriname

(N=54)

Brazil

(N=23)

Peru

(N=30)

6.2 How could small-scale gold mining in your country be improved in the future?

Suriname

(N=54)

Brazil

(N=23)

Peru

(N=30)

6.3 How would you like to contribute?

Suriname

(N=54)

Brazil

(N=22)

Peru

(N=30)

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