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Regulating the Blessing - Small Scale Miners’ Access to Legality in Colombia, Peru and Mexico

This study assesses, in a comparative perspective, the various strategies developed by the Peruvian, Colombian and Mexican Governments to tackle informal mining. It does so by exploring to what extent the countries’ different Mining Codes grant incentives for small scale miners to operate in the formal sector and whether compensation mechanisms are established to deal with power asymmetries vis-à-vis large scale mining companies

This investigation seeks to compare the legal frameworks developed in the 1990-2010 period in Colombia, Peru and Mexico to prevent and tackle informal artisanal / small scale mining. It does so by assessing the impact on the levels of informality of: (i) the incentives provided to miners to operate within legality; and (ii) the mechanisms devised to compensate such miners’ disadvantageous position vis-à-vis large scale mining companies. For such assessment a thorough examination of the countries’ mining codes is carried out. Concurrently, information extracted from semi-structured interviews with experts and triangulated with secondary sources is used to evaluate the codes’ impact on informality.

The analysis supports the hypothesis that simple inexpensive mine title acquisition procedures, granting long lasting property rights, as well as guaranteeing technical and financial assistance, are key drivers of formalization. The impact of such incentives is, however, more complex: firstly, as the Mexican case illustrates, the absence of incentives combined with strong police persecution, can reduce informal mining by rendering it an unattractive activity with no prospective of future formalization. Secondly, the Colombian and Peruvian case exemplify how entry barriers also encourage miners to create associations which, in turn, are able to better access information, can comply with formal requirements more easily and can play an important role in influencing policy design.

Furthermore, considering the incentives of large scale companies also proved crucial to reduce informality, given that a significant share of mining areas are already under concession. This means that the number of mine titles informal miners could potentially obtain is limited. Therefore, as the Colombian and Peruvian case exemplify, formalizing is to a large degree dependent on the willingness of these companies to voluntarily engage in associative contracts with informal miners. However, so far none of the observed countries has managed to prompt strong alliances between small and large scale miners to fruitfully implement such collaborative models.

With regard to the compensation mechanisms, this study supports the hypothesis that granting political voice to small scale miners is of utmost importance to guarantee that differentiated costs, procedures and requirements are contemplated in the law. All in all, such policies have been innocuous and even counterproductive when not accompanied by measures that enhance access to information as well as local bureaucratic competences. In a context of scarce local bureaucratic resources, promissory formalization schemes generate a demand for mine titles that surpasses mining authorities’ capacity and, thereby, potentially incites more informality and social unrest. As observed in Peru, in such cases formalization processes can, paradoxically, induce higher levels of informal mining.

In light of these findings, the study recommends the partner institution -Transparency International- to: (i) support the implementation of informational campaigns that explain the benefits of operating in formality and of doing so by means of associating; (ii) encourage policy dialogue spaces in order to prompt mutual monitoring and align the different stakeholders’ incentives; (iii) support capacity building programs targeting local mining authorities; (iv) support monitoring mechanisms in the mine title distribution and contracting processes.

The full report is available here.

Author : Camilo Sánchez Meertens

04 Aug 2014


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