July 3, 2018, by Alex Kirby
Up in smoke: End of the road for one of the miners’ machines. Image: Courtesy of Fenamad
A smartphone app devised by a British campaign group has brought to justice illegal goldminers in Peru, and is also being tested in African forests.
LONDON, 3 July, 2018 – An indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon has helped to catch illegal goldminers red-handed using a smartphone app developed by a London-based environmental group, the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK).
The app employs smartphones linked to satellites, and by involving communities in monitoring provides a tool which connects local people with national law enforcement, in an attempt to stop deforestation.
Rachel Agnew, the Foundation’s head of communications, says: “The beauty of it is that it’s adaptable to a wide range of contexts. The tech actually evolved from a large mapping project when we discovered that it was possible to transmit small pockets of data from remote parts of the forest, via satellite, in real time.”
Using RFUK’s specially designed ForestLink system, remote communities can send alerts and evidence of threats to the forest, including illegal mining and oil spills, to law enforcement agencies, even from areas with no mobile or internet connectivity.
“Local people . . . are on the frontlines of the fight against deforestation”
The forest group involved in the miners’ detention, the Masenawa community in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, has been working with RFUK and another local organisation, Federación Nativa del Rio Madre de Dios y Afluentes (Fenamad), since 2016 to monitor illegal activity, using ForestLink.
The miners were caught in June just a few kilometres from the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. They had set up a temporary camp as they searched for gold using heavy machinery, which attracted the attention of the Masenawa, who were on a monitoring mission.
Using a satellite uplink-fitted smartphone, the monitors promptly sent evidence of the mining to Fenamad, which reported it to the Peruvian authorities. The government’s environmental police force then intervened, destroying the miners’ machines, vehicles and other equipment in a series of controlled explosions. Five suspects were detained, and charges are now pending.
“Communities are the natural guardians of the Amazon. Technologies like ForestLink are helping indigenous peoples to protect the rainforest from illegal mining, even in areas outside their titled lands,” explained Fenamad’s real-time monitoring coordinator, Rosa Baca, in a statement.
Threats and beatings
The president of the Masenawa community, Carmen Irey Cameno, is a vocal opponent of goldmining. Since denouncing the illegal activity several members of the community have been threatened and two members of Cameno’s own family have been beaten up in retaliation.
“It’s alarming to see environmental defenders threatened and intimidated in this way”, said RFUK’s Peru and Andean Amazon coordinator, Aldo Soto. “At the same time, the determination of Carmen and her people in protecting their environment is truly inspiring.
“What this intervention shows is the power of harnessing technology for social good and putting it in the hands of local people, who are on the frontlines of the fight against deforestation.”
Madre de Dios is considered the capital of biodiversity in Peru, home to several natural reserves as well as the Manu National Park. In recent years illegal goldmining has become one of the leading drivers of deforestation in the region.
Goldmining, whether legal or not, has also become one of the most serious environmental and human rights problems across Peru, with an estimated US$15 billion-worth produced illegally between 2003 and 2014.
Research elsewhere in Latin America, published in 2017, has shown that when the price of gold rises, deforestation increases, while a price drop reduces the threat to the trees. Other researchers have found evidence showing a link between metals mined in Peru and Colombia and smelters in the European Union.
By 2015, there were an estimated 30,000 artisanal goldminers (all of whom needed a permit, RFUK says) operating in Madre de Dios alone.
The RFUK Real-Time Monitoring project is in use not only in Peru, but also in three African states: Ghana, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In one of the most recent reprisal attacks on environmental protection groups reported worldwide, five wildlife rangers and a driver involved in safeguarding the gorillas of the Virunga national park in the DRC were killed in an ambush in April 2018. More than 170 rangers have been killed in the park while protecting animals in the last 20 years. – Climate News Network
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.