Marbel Thomas is the Toshao of Campbell-Town, an Indigenous village close to Mahdia. She wants her village to lead the way in practising responsible mining.
“This is our vision for our village. We want to practise mining in a way that has minimum impact on the environment, and is safe for people, so that we can continue to earn a living to take care of our families,” she said.
In early September, she welcomed to her village a group of partners implementing the El Dorado Gold – Responsible Mining for Guyana Initiative, to meet with councillors and other residents. The El Dorado Gold Initiative encourages actions around responsible mining for Guyana. It encompasses a Global Environment Facility and Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation-funded mining projects which tackle reducing the use of mercury in gold mining, and the impact of mining activities on forests.
About ten minutes outside of Mahdia, small to medium mining sites are visible from the sky. Mining is the main source of income for Campbell-Town and Mahdia. Even before villagers began mining, Campbell-Town earned profits by granting permission to non-residents for mining of small concessions within the village lands.
Campbell-Town miners operate small-scale mines. Thomas said there is very little awareness of the impacts of using mercury in the mining process. “We don’t know anything about mercury, but we want to learn,” she said. “We want to educate our miners.”
There are at the old mining sites ponds where residents sometimes fish. “We catch them, we eat them, and it’s normal for us to do this. If mercury use at these mined out sites could possibly affect our health, then we need to know; and we’ll want to change this,” Thomas said.
While the village leader does not remember any out-of-the-ordinary cases of sickness occurring in the village, she believes it is better to be careful than take unnecessary risks.
“I would like to see our village restoring mining sites,” Thomas said. She added that Campbell-Town is currently thinking of ways to do this.
During a short visit to the St. Elizabeth mining site, the team also saw one of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission’s restoration sites. Since 2010, efforts have been made to plant Acacia mangium in areas that have been heavily mined to promote the return of surface vegetation and stabilise the soil. Over time, it is hoped, by planting this species, the area would undergo natural succession, resulting in secondary forest cover.
Vincent Xavier, a resident who has been mining since 1992, believes there are many challenges which the small miner faces. “Financially, we don’t have the support that we need,” he said. “The price of equipment, fuel and other supplies are high. Support in financing and learning ways to increase production are key needs of the small miner.”
Both Thomas and Xavier look forward to finding innovative ways to reduce the impact of mining on nature and people, while increasing production and profit for miners.
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