MANUNGARÁ, Colombia -- Juan Waldino Perea has been panning for gold in Western Colombia the same way his father and grandfather did — using little more than a shovel, a crowbar and thick arms. Even as excavating machines began chewing up riverbeds around him in the 1980s, and waves of wildcat miners tried to tempt him with the magic of mercury — which can boost output even as it wrecks those who handle it carelessly — he resisted.
His stubbornness is paying off. Now, Waldino and hundreds of miners like him are commanding top dollar for their environmentally friendly gold.
“I could bring a backhoe in here and I might even find more gold,” said Waldino, 46, as he swished murky water around in his panning bowl. “But I’d kill the land, and then where would I go? What would I leave for my children?”
Waldino’s is one of 114 families that are part of a project called Oro Verde, or green gold in Colombia’s Chocó province. The Afro-Colombian community has pledged to maintain its ancestral mining practice and swear off heavy excavation equipment and toxic chemicals. In return, the community is selling its certified gold and platinum at rates 15 percent higher than market value. The premium is paid by jewelers in Europe and the United States and funds a community bank account that doles out loans and invests in local projects.