In the alchemy of social change, technology is only one part of the formula. The other, arguably more complex part, is people. This can be seen in the journey to bring the technology dubbed CLINN-GEM, or the Community-Led Integrated Non-Cyanide Non-Mercury Gold Extraction Method, out of project leader Dr. Herman D. Mendoza’s laboratory at the UP Department of Mining, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, and into the communities and day-to-day lives of the country’s artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMs).
For this part of CLINN-GEM’s journey, the other half of the CLINN-GEM team and Dr. Mendoza’s good friend takes the helm: Dr. Oscar P. Ferrer of the Department of Community Development, UP College of Social Work and Community Development, who came in with his own teams sometime from 2013 to 2014 to handle the social prep work.
“I said to Doc Oskee, we need to work together, because we’re not just talking about the technology, but the community that will use it,” Dr. Mendoza recalls. “We’re trying to marry the community and the technology, and that’s the challenge.”
Dr. Ferrer explains further: “For large-scale mines, mining is about profit. But for ASMs, this is economic subsistence, livelihoods. If they mine today, they must come home at night with something to put on the table to feed their families. That’s the most challenging part of organizing.” Large scale mines, of course, operate far above the level of day-to-day survival that ASMs do, and can afford the delays that come with transitioning between technologies. But ASMs? “All their lives, what they know to do is amalgamation and cyanidation. Then you come in with a new, environment-friendly technology. What exactly will they do during the transition?”
This is not about resistance to change. Neither is this a lack of awareness of the dangers of amalgamation and cyanidation. The grassroots miners are open to innovations that are beneficial to their communities and families, because of course they are. “They know that mercury tainting the river means death. They know what is environment-friendly or not. This is their milieu, and we have to value that,” says Dr. Ferrer. “It’s in how you handle the balance between the economic needs of the people and the environment. How you treat mining in small communities is different. This is not an issue of anti-mining. This is an issue of human lives.”
Transmutation and change
So they began with the easiest among the four localities: Benguet, where the ASMs were already organized under the Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Miners, Inc.; therefore, they had a voice and power of their own. Even then, the UP team had to convince the miners of the advantages of CLINN-GEM. They did so by way of a side-by-side competition or parallel testing with the old ways, which Dr. Ferrer laughingly compares to a track-and-field race that Dr. Mendoza’s CLINN-GEM inevitably won. Moreover, the parallel testing did not even take in the environmental damage and the cost that would be incurred when using the old and dangerous techniques of amalgamation and cyanidation.
The challenge was even bigger in the other areas, where the ASMs were unregulated and considered illegitimate, and had no organization to speak for them and deal with UP, the DOST and the local governments on their behalf. Dr. Ferrer and his teams worked within the unique sociopolitical contexts of each area to organize the ASMs from the ground up.
The arduous job included things like coaxing the skittish miners to get organized; teaching them about the technology, alongside some basic mining and metallurgical engineering; skills-training to give them alternative sources of livelihood, especially the women and children; and, giving the communities the political, legal and paralegal skills they needed to fend off greedy and unethical agents of the State cloaked with police power, including those mandated personnel at the regulatory and monitoring agencies of the government, who preyed on small miners, thereby giving the communities the power to be self-reliant and to defend their own interests.
And this was just within the community. Dr. Ferrer and Dr. Mendoza also had to navigate dense networks of DOST offices; local government officials from the barangay captains to the provincial governors and Congressmen, some of whom did not see eye to eye with each other; state universities and colleges; and, even policymakers and national government agencies. They also had to worry over potential sabotage from economic players further along the value chain that the technology would run over—the merchants selling mercury and cyanide, for instance, and perhaps large scale mining companies who would lose a convenient scapegoat if the ASMs suddenly became environment friendly.
“It’s tough. You’re threatening a lot of players,” Dr. Ferrer says, to which Dr. Mendoza adds, “And we are dealing with a very sensitive community.”
Marrying the social and the technological
Dr. Mendoza described the CLINN-GEM project as 20% technology and 80% community and society. “The technology is intact. UP owns the technology, and we’re trying to deploy it. But you see, deploying the technology is not that easy,” he admitted. “You can just imagine the problems that come with it. Even if UP says, ‘Oh, we have this and that technology,’ how will the community make use of it?”
Innovations such as CLINN-GEM are more than just technology. Innovations are social movements, and for Dr. Ferrer, innovations and technologies are key to developing the grassroots. “Our framework is technology for empowerment,” he says. “Give the communities the technology, so they hold the mode of production. Teach them everything—marketing, sourcing, legal and paralegal skills—so they can be autonomous and self-reliant. Then they can say, we can provide for ourselves, and we are empowered.”
Because of this, the two are adamant that CLINN-GEM will benefit only the people who need it the most. “It’s for sustainability purposes. If you give the technology to some rich mining company, they might turn around and oppress the small miners,” says Dr. Ferrer. “Many approach Doc Judge to buy his patent, but we tell them, ‘We will not give it to you. We will give it to the small miners; it’s not for you.’ ”
For Dr. Mendoza, it’s about doing it the UP way. “Through this project, we’re doing the mandate of UP. We’re teaching, we’re doing research, and whatever we teach, whatever we do research on, we give back to the community. It’s a cycle, and we follow that cycle.”