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Illegal mining

In some parts of the Amazon, illegal and informal mining[1] are the most difficult drivers of deforestation to reverse. In Madre de Dios, the region where our Tambopata-Bahuaja Biodiversity Reserve project is located, illegal gold mining is one of the most significant deforestation drivers, as highlighted by a recent article on the conservation and environmental science news website, Mongabay.

The explosion of illegal gold mining activity in Madre de Dios is the result of several social and environmental factors, including the relative ease of mining alluvial gold, the increased accessibility of the region due to the interoceanic highway, the lack of alternative economic opportunities for local and indigenous communities and insufficient law enforcement.

These combined dynamics are attracting ever greater numbers of people to the area, putting increasing pressure on the region’s natural resources – its rainforests in particular – as the economic incentives are powerful. Illegal and informal gold mining and other related illegal activities (such as fuel-smuggling, prostitution and liquor distribution) create profitable and quick-to-earn economic alternatives that deter local farmers from engaging in legal activities. For example, in the local markets, a gram of gold commands an average of USD 24 which means that in just 24 hours of work, a miner can earn more than USD 4,600. Compare that to Peru’s legal minimum salary of USD 270 a month or the region’s monthly average salary of USD 550.

Providing an economic alternative

The Tambopata-Bahuaja project was established to promote commercially viable sustainable economic alternatives like agroforestry and conservation, therefore making illegal activities less attractive. The project implementers, AIDER, are establishing a number of conservation agreements in areas that have been identified as critically threatened and are providing financial resources, technical and commercial assistance to farmers for the implementation of agroforestry systems with cocoa as a sustainable productive alternative. So far more than 1,200 hectares of degraded land in the buffer zone of the protected area have been rehabilitated with fine flavour cocoa agroforestry systems and a cocoa cooperative with its own post-harvesting facility has been built. This will increase the quality of the product through optimal fermentation and drying processes, as well as contribute to full traceability of cocoa beans, which will grant famers access to higher average price for their cocoa. This premium product allows farmers to be part of the legal and formal economy of the region while still earning more than the average household income.

Additionally, the Tambopata-Bahuaja project addresses deforestation threats by strengthening the control and surveillance systems within the Natural Protected Areas to identify and stop illegal encroachment. This includes supporting the National Parks Authority in their operations through the construction and improvement of checkpoints in key access points, providing food and fuel for routine patrols, as well as promoting community participation by establishing community surveillance committees.

It is critical to engage the local population about the importance of the Natural Protected Areas and the benefits they generate, communicating the boundaries of the areas, their buffer zones, and the kinds of economic activities available to them.

As a Forest Trends report published in December 2017 highlights, it is unfortunately beyond the capacity (and scope) of the Tambopata-Bahuaja forest conservation project to address in full the problem of illegal gold mining in the area. It requires a joint and concerted effort from the national and regional governments to address the root causes as part of a comprehensive long-term strategy as well as through performing interdiction activities in illegal gold mining camps.

Nevertheless, the situation with illegal mining demonstrates the need for initiatives like the forest conservation activities at the Tambopata-Bahuaja project (alongside government support and civil society organizations) to develop alternative livelihoods and effectively protect forests. Without the financial resources available to the protected area thanks to the purchase of carbon credits from the project, the situation would undoubtably be worse. It is in areas where the threats are real that climate finance really demonstrates its value; delivering not only critical local benefits but also tackling climate change and enhancing global biodiversity conservation efforts.  

Learn more about our Tambopata-Bahuaja Biodiversity Reserve Projector support this critical work on the ground by purchasing carbon credits from this project by taking action to address your carbon footprint.

The Tambopata-Bahuaja project is the flagship project of the REDD+ Business Initiative.


[1]. An example of illegal mining is when heavy machinery and equipment is used by artisanal operations or when it is carried out in areas where it is prohibited, like natural protected areas and its buffer zone, rivers and lakes. An example of informal mining is when the activity does not follow the mining regulations and requirements and is not currently under a process of formalization with the government.