Interview with Catalina Cock Duque, director of Colombia's Amigos del Choco foundation, Amichoco, an entity involved in the development and promotion of a more environmentally friendly gold mining process called Green Gold mining.
BNamericas: Where does the idea of Green Gold come from?
Cock: It started in the municipality of Condoto, in Colombia's western department of Choco, and it is a world-leading municipal pilot project; it is a program that stimulates the practice of a more environmentally and socially responsible mining industry. Through a very rigorous certification process we verify that miners are complying with regulations. The gold produced from this process is sold with a 25% mark-up. We've been working on the subject for two years now, mostly dedicated to reinforcing our organizational structure and developing the certification system, which is being carried out by the Investigaciones Ambientales del Pacifico institute.
It's important to emphasize the work done by the community councils of Condoto and Tado municipalities; these are organizations the represent black communities, which hold collective titles for mining rights in these areas. Without them this project would have been impossible, because they have worked in the organizational area, educated the miners, provided environmental education, among other activities.
BNamericas: Why is it called Green Gold?
Cock: In Green Gold techniques we prohibit the use of cyanide and mercury; we fight deforestation, and if there is deforestation, we promote the reforestation of those areas; we also try to avoid the removal of organic topsoil, which is usually destroyed in mechanized mining. In this kind of mining we guarantee that the topsoil layer is put back in its place in order to restore the ecosystem.
Sedimentation is another problem that we prevent through our certification criteria, and although at the moment the program is focusing on non-mechanized mining and on reviving traditional mining methods, we are also working on the transfer of cleaner technologies in the medium and long-term. There is a French investor testing a Knelson machine in the municipality of Condoto, which is environmentally sound and friendly.
BNamericas: What are you working on today?
Cock: We are now working with non-mechanized miners, appraising their responsibility with regard to the environment. They generally receive 60% of the international price, and through the Green Gold corporation they are receiving 100% of the international price, while the remaining 25% is left to the corporation in order to reinvest in similar projects, such as reforestation programs to recover already damaged ecosystems.
BNamericas: How have you promoted Green Gold?
Cock: We have participated in two international fairs and the results have been positive. We've found certain market niches that are quite specialized; we don't go after the traditional buyers, we have found special markets such as homeopathy. Other examples are exclusive Japanese restaurants that serve sushi on thin sheets of Green Gold.
It has also been used in dentistry, thanks to the absence of mercury, which is so unhealthy and damaging. And we have recently found a promising market in the United States, where an Indian family in New Mexico wants to coin its own currency. They have been declared a legitimate state and we are negotiating with them, so they'll back their currency with Green Gold.
BNamericas: What physical characteristics make Green Gold different from conventional gold?
Cock: It's exactly the same gold; only the extraction process is environmentally friendly. If you compare the two metals it's impossible to distinguish them; it's simply the extraction method that makes the difference, and it is environmentally responsible.
BNamericas: How do you control that the gold is really extracted following Green Gold methods?
Cock: There are 11 certification criteria; the Investigaciones del Pacifico institute visits mining locations sporadically, once a month on average, to verify that the extraction is complying with the 11 points for certification. Then we issue a certificate that entitles the seller to a 25% surcharge, and that way we encourage responsible practices.
BNamericas: What benefit does anyone interested in buying Green Gold obtain, compared to conventional gold?
Cock: We are taking advantage of the boom of the international green markets, such as organic food, of more environmentally aware consumers that demand cleaner products, being more responsible with the environment and with society.
There is a surcharge for organic food that guarantees the consumer that environmental responsibility; it's the same case with Green Gold, and although it is a world-level pilot project we have found that there are niche markets interested in recognizing this; that is why we're not after the traditional buyer of gold, but in specialized markets. There are even people that eat gold dust to heal their bodies! We are focusing on those markets, the exclusive restaurants in Japan, dentistry, and also on those people interested in investing in social and environmental programs, and what better way than investing in gold, which maintains its value in time.
BNamericas: Is Amichoco involved in any promotion campaign?
Cock: We would like to start with that right away. We have to request assistance from the state bank of Colombia because this is growing fast, and we want to make this a nationwide program, so the Colombian Green Gold Coalition can become the umbrella organization of other similar entities to develop these practices in other countries in the short- and medium-term.
BNamericas: How are Green Gold exports doing?
Cock: Exports are not very large yet; we're exporting about 1kg a month on average. Today, the production capacity of Green Gold is about 2kg of gold and 1kg of platinum.
ABOUT GREEN GOLD
The Green Gold Corporation is made up by four organizations: the Tado Leading Communal Council, and the Leading Communal Council of Condoto, which together represent more than 70,000 inhabitants; the Las Mojarras corporation, which has its headquarters in Condoto, and the Amigos del Choco (Amichoco), based in Medellin, which liases between local communities and potential national and international buyers.