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Catalina Cock Duque

Fellow Ashoka
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Colombia
Fellow since 2004
Corporacion Oro Verde Fundacion Amigos del Choco
This description of Catalina Cock Duque's work was prepared when Catalina Cock Duque was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004 .

Introduzione

In the Chocó region of Colombia, small communities on the edge of the rainforest are renting their land to large and destructive gold-mining groups, mostly informal mechanic miners. This is the only way to make enough money to survive. When these groups pull out, they leave the land poisoned and unsuitable for agriculture, putting the people of Chocó in an even worse situation. Catalina is working with the people of Chocó to take up gold mining themselves, using small-scale environmentally friendly mining techniques, rather than allowing destructive corporations to ravish their land.

La nuova idea

In Chocó, gold mining can be a hugely profitable business, but has devastating consequences for the people who live near the mines. Catalina and her partners are working to turn that around, making gold-mining profitable and safe for ordinary people. She is doing this by encouraging the people themselves to take up gold-mining instead of just selling the rights to mine gold to large companies.
Although small scale miners can’t compete with large corporations in terms of quantity, Catalina realized that they might be able to appeal to a niche market for “green gold” mined in an environmentally friendly manner. Savvy and socially conscious consumers around the world worry about their purchasing choices and are eager for assurances that the products they buy are not made by at the expense of the environment. A certification process looks at extraction methods and designates fair prices, so that when customers buy a certified gold product they know that neither the environment nor the local population was exploited in its manufacture.
At the same time, the Green Gold initiative is reviving viable artisan techniques for mining environmentally friendly “green” gold, so that local people living on mineral-rich lands can take advantage of this new certification system by setting up their own mining operations. Finally, Catalina has also created a nonprofit organization, Corporación Oro Verde, to buy gold at fair prices, eliminating the intermediaries who would otherwise take out a large chunk of the profits and make small-time mining nonviable. The corporation is an essential part of the strategy, as it incorporates not only the production but facilitates the sales of “green gold”.
These two components were socialized with local organizations and communities that were interested in the program, becoming the Colombian Coalition for Green Gold.
In 2000, this relationship was made formal with the constitution of Green Gold Corporation. This was determined to be the ideal structure to produce Certified Green Gold, with an organization in which their members have well-defined roles which are indispensable for the success of the program. They are:• Major community councils of Condoto and Tadó and Foundation Las Mojarras, as base communities that are in charge of management of collective territories, the local coordination of the projects, the organization strengthening, the sponsor, follow up and advise to certified miners.• The Foundation Amigos del Chocó performs the linking role between local, national, and international development of fair green markets, spreading of experience, and sensitizing through communication and environmental education, research, and management of networks and strategic alliances• The IIAP articulates research processes of the different actors in the territory of the region. Within the program, green gold has the certification function as an independent entity, validates transfer of new technologies and co-validates the ethnotechnology ancestrally used.
As in a machine, each organization is a key piece of the structure, and success is only possible with the coordinated work of all actors.

Il problema

Poor communities along the edges of the forest, desperate for any income, often “rent” land to medium- and large-scale mechanized illegal miners. These miners quickly extract gold and other minerals from the soil with processes that use mercury and other poisonous substances, which ultimately seep into the local waters. The rainforest of Colombia, one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, is in danger of disappearing as illegal miners gut the land in search of gold. Between 1990 and 1995, 1.3 million hectares of forests were felled in the Chocó, and it is estimated that deforestation is increasing at a 0.5 to 1.0 percent rate per year as mining and oil companies expand ever farther into the woods.
In addition, the short-term benefits to poor communities from the sale of mining rights are far outweighed by the long-term consequences. After the mining companies have finished operations, locals find that the land has become useless for agriculture. Once a biodiverse forest or fertile farming area, the forest edges can no longer grow crops because mining poisons have degraded the soil and contaminated the water. Locals can no longer be self-sufficient and are forced to import food and the most basic amenities of life from other regions. Experts predict that the region’s gold reserves will be tapped out in the near future. Once this happens, informal mines will quit renting the land, leaving the locals living on degraded, poisonous lands with no way to support themselves.
The work of Catalina and her coalition focuses on Chocó, one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world yet also one of the poorest. Colombia’s 1991 Constitution granted communities land rights. However, territorial rights are still violated by illegal miners. Even when locals try to mine minerals for themselves, they are easy prey for intermediaries who buy their minerals at scandalously low prices.
If the people living on the land could mine the gold themselves using ecologically minded techniques and find honest dealers to buy their goods, they would have an alternative to simply selling the mining rights to outside corporations. Without a way to reach a niche market, though, small-scale artisan miners are unable to compete with large companies using quick but environmentally disastrous practices.

La strategia

Catalina has created the “Corporación Oro Verde” mining model to promote green gold mining techniques, fair pricing, commercial contacts, and everything else that residents of Chocó need to go into the gold mining business for themselves.
To restore the degraded land, Catalina promotes ancient non-polluting extraction techniques—techniques traditionally used by the inhabitants of Chocó. In addition, green gold diggers commit themselves to restoring the landscape after they have finished mining, participating in activities like replanting trees, crop rotation, and fishing. Known as “Analog Forestry,” this system has already been successfully implemented in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Australia, and Ecuador, with the purpose of ending communities’ dependence on mining, improving their food security, and empowering them to effectively manage and protect their land.
Corporación Oro Verde then buys the gold that meets the criteria for COV’s “green gold” certification seal at a premium. Catalina is currently coordinating with several Colombian and international research institutes, universities, civil society organizations, and government agencies, to establish international certification criteria for environmentally and socially sustainable mineral extraction.
Currently, COV is buying the gold production of 100 certified and registered “family production units,” but another 5,000 units from other regions have shown interest in joining the COV initiative. At the international level, Catalina has formed the Association for Responsible Mining to promote the production and certification of green gold worldwide, increase international public awareness of green gold, and generate new buyers for green gold. So far, 11 countries, including Ecuador and Peru, have shown interest in replicating the COV model not only for gold but for other metals and minerals.
Catalina believes that the COV model is sustainable because there exists a vast untapped market for green gold in Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as right at home in Colombia. Tiffany’s, for example, recently joined Oxfam International and EarthWorks in the international “No Dirty Gold” campaign, showing that even large jewelry companies are recognizing the demand for non-exploitative gold. Catalina is currently working on ways to encourage top jewelry designers to use COV raw material, and the citizen shareholders in COV are experimenting with gold jewelry to sell directly to consumers.

La persona

At 17, Catalina accompanied an official mission to a Chocó community to announce plans to install electrical wires. Despite the supposed benefits that electricity would bring, some local leaders objected to the electrification project because they feared it would endanger their culture. With electricity, they feared, would come all the vices of the modern industrial age. Impressed by their dedication to tradition, Catalina started to think about what development meant to some of the poorest people in Colombia. On the way home, one of the engines on her plane failed and the group was forced to make an emergency landing. This near-death experience had a profound impact on Catalina, and, together with her observations of poverty in Chocó, made her determined to improve the living conditions of the people of Chocó without sacrificing their way of life.
Catalina and her brother created the “Friends of Chocó” Foundation in 1997, and, with support from the Discovery Channel, organized a video contest to promote Chocó’s biodiversity. Catalina and her brother both went to the United States to attend university, where they continued to ponder ways to help Chocó. Outside of their studies, they attended seminars and events about the environment and sustainable development, always hoping to find new ways to improve Chocó. At one event, they met Dr. Ranil Senanayake from Sri Lanka, the developer of “Analog Forestry,” who inspired Catalina and her brother to start her “Oro Verde” model. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, she studied at the London School of Economics, where she finalized her work on “Oro Verde.”
When she came back to Colombia, she was eager to implement the “Oro Verde” project immediately. Even though she didn’t have the funds to hire any support, she started working with nothing more than some help from a few friends and volunteers. Step by step, the project grew slowly until Dr. Senanayake recommended the “Oro Verde” project of “Friends of Chocó” Foundation to Holland, from which she received the first financial aid contribution.