Jose Ignacio Noguera is the vice president of corporate affairs for the mining company Gran Colombia Gold. He is responsible for managing the company’s sustainability, public affairs, external and government affairs strategy. Chemonics partnered with Gran Colombia Gold through the USAID-funded BioREDD+ project to address the complex challenge of illegal mining operations in Antioquia, one of Colombia’s main gold-producing regions.
Can you explain some of the complexities being addressed through Gran Colombia Gold’s efforts to legalize artisanal miners in Antioquia?
There are still a lot of people in their towns that believe that being illegal is good. They do not want to be legal. Yet the level of poverty remains extremely high when you compare it with the money illegal miners have in their pockets. So this initiative is a combination of strategies. It is not only to formalize small miners. We can formalize all the miners in the area, but if we don’t support education in those communities in order to improve quality of schools and attract programs from universities that result in better conditions, we could spend all the money we want in formalizing miners, but at the end, we won’t change the cultural mentality. And that is what we need to change.
So we supported education on one side — for kids and adults — and on the other side, we supported artisanal miners in their production and operations. Just as an example, one of the changes in the cultural synergy made as a result of this initiative is that all of the miners that have been legalized now have bank accounts, which is happening for the first time. This partnership helped to educate miners in this process to understand how to access banking, credit, and other financial services.
What would you say was the most beneficial facet of this partnership between Gran Colombia Gold and Chemonics?
There were a lot of things that were beneficial. If you want to change the world, you can’t do it alone. You need to work together. It doesn’t matter where the funds come from, whether public or private. It is about people. We are helping people. It is about eliminating poverty. It is about economic growth and social development. It is about opportunities, and that is what this partnership is working toward.
What was one of your most memorable experiences with this initiative?
I always remember Edinson Monsalve from the la Vega Gold Mine. He was one of the first miners to sign a contract under the initiative, and today he is the leader of the initiative. He serves as an advisor and is replicating the model. I always remember something he told me during this process, which was, “To be legal costs a lot. But I am very happy.”
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