Poverty Trap : The Case of Gold Panning Activities in Northern Palawan, Philippines
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Poverty Trap : The Case of Gold Panning Activities in Northern Palawan, Philippines

Poverty Trap is a mechanism which makes it very difficult for people to escape poverty. It is a self-perpetuating condition where an economy, caught in a vicious cycle, suffers from persistent underdevelopment. When individuals lack capital, they may also find it difficult to acquire it, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of poverty. Mining industry contributes significant amount to the Gross Domestic Product of the country. Despite its economic contribution, the question that how does mining affect the environment is a pressing environmental issue. The "unregulated" method of mining operation slowly build up a mechanism of poverty that eventually become a trap that no one can escape from. Palawan hosts to some of the biggest mining companies in the Philippines because of its richness in mineral resources such as nickel, chromite, manganese and gold and others. Mining activities require the clearing of large areas of land. The process of extracting metals and minerals from the earth would change the land formation and affects the biodiversity of some species of plants and animals.

Project site

            The project site of the gold panning activities is a ten-hectare parcel of land situated in a remote village in Sitio Iraan, Barangay Magara, Roxas, Palawan. The municipality of Roxas is located in the north eastern part of province. It is geographically located 10º19’30” North, 119º20’44” East .Approximately 15 kms. from the national highway and can be reached by land transportation and an hour of hike .

             The project site presents a variety of land cover. The moderately flat to rolling terrain accommodates a diverse species of plant varieties. The low-lying areas are typically suited to agriculture while rolling parts is indicative to favor some fruit bearing trees like cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and citrus (Citrus mitis) family trees. Coconut (Cocos nucifera) trees in some areas evidently thrive well. It is home to second growth and patches of forest cover in the upside portion of the project site and abounds conventional forest trees and herbs to fruit bearing trees planted by the early inhabitants of the area. The forest cover provides the thin cover of the watershed which supplies the water demand of all the stakeholders including that of plants and animal species. A river and a creek serve as the main source of water in the area. The river displays relatively wide distance between banks indicative of greater amount of water that flows during rainy season.

             A diverse fauna was also noted based on sightings, calls or vocalization of birds, droppings and foot tracks. Among the animals present in the activity area are endemic to the province- an evidence of the richness of the animal species in the ecosystems.

Gold Panning Activities

            The stakeholders of the project are classified as poor and marginalized. To address the financial crises and the seemingly endless poverty, the stakeholders has collectively formed the Northern Palawan Gold Panners Multi Purpose Cooperative (NORPAGP-MC) apparently to have a stronger stand against poverty. The cooperative has 319 members, about 220 of whom have engaged in gold panning while the rest are into different livelihood activities like hog raising, gardening, sari-sari  ( variety ) store, and others. There are 72 member-workers who are directly performing panning activities in the area. Workers include men and women even children aged six years- the youngest recorded worker. Shanties were constructed near and around mine diggings which serves as the shelter of workers during operations. On rainy or wet season, there were no operation due to relatively unsafe working conditions. The soil is soft and landslides pose great danger to the workers. The manner of gold panning operation is manual. The river is evidently silted, turbidity of water in the river is very high, reaching the adjacent coral reefs and the marine protected area is adversely affected. The mined out areas poses danger to the resident population  and animals as well the continuous depletion of topsoil unable to plant crops.

Conclusion

              Gold panning promises instant cash after a substantial harvest of gold dust. As compared to farming, gold panning attracts more workers due to the fact that in farming one needs to wait for some time before a harvest can be done. Site cost of gold harvest at the time of the study is 29.72 US$ per gram. With about 25 grams harvest in a month of panning, the remuneration for the panning activities is relatively very high.

             The project’s impact to the stakeholders’ economy is positively high. It enabled them to send their children to nearby schools and attend to their needs. On the other hand, very clearly, the ecosystems carried the unregulated manner of operations. The panners though the common reason for the commission of these adverse activities, is poverty.

                The absence of mitigating measures had done tremendous irreversible damage to the outlying environment and the future generations' chances of benefiting the environment has doomed to traps of poverty.

                                    

Figure 1. Heavy silted river              Figure 2. Open pit of the mined out areas                

References:

Investopedia ULC " Poverty Trap" 2012.  Available at http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/poverty-trap.asp#axzz1rFgCNsd4

Kiminori Matsuyama "poverty trap: Available at http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~kmatsu/Poverty%20Traps.pdf

Buzzle.com "How does Mining affect the environment " 2012. Available at http://www.buzzle.com/articles/how-does-mining-affect-the-environment.html

12 April 2012 Ma. Rosario Aynon A. Gonzales

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Comments (2)

Way to go Aynon. This is something that we really need to ponder about. We'll just have to strike a balance between use and protection of our natural resources.

Mam Aynon,

Im so proud to see your article here...

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