As the price of gold continues to soar on international exchanges, one country in particular is benefitting from the spike.
The tiny South American country of Suriname has gold aplenty and is experiencing somewhat of an economic boom from gold mining – both legal and illegal.
The trouble is the illegal side of the industry is unregulated and therefore very dangerous for the miners who do it.
To find out more I went to Brokopondo where I watched as a truck laden with gold-riddled ore headed towards a production plant run by a Canadian mining company deep in the rain forest.
In this area IAMGOLD is the only company legally allowed to mine.
But in the middle of the land allotted to them ILLEGAL miners also extract the metal and there’s precious little IAMGOLD can do about it!
The company’s general manager Paul Korpi reckons roughly $40m worth of his profits have been lost to illegal mining at just one site alone.
“It’s our concession but it is not our property. We’re truly corporate and business guests in this country. Going in and pushing these people out is not to the way to correct a larger problem.”
IAMGOLD says that while it pays royalties and taxes to the Suriname government and follows strict health and safety rules the illegal miners do not.
At IAM’s mine you can clearly see the “steps” cut into its mine walls to prevent them from collapsing.
But when you travel to one of the illegal sites on IAMGOLD’S concession, there are no such “steps” in the mine wall, just a vast scar in the landscape that experts say could collapse at any moment.
Weeks ago, a mine wall at a nearby illegal site did give way, killing seven miners.
The gold rush is Suriname is prompted by the high price of the metal on world commodity markets and that means that people from all over the country and neighbouring nations come here to exploit the resources in this largely under-explored country.
No one will say openly who funds the illegal mining operations in Suriname but the feeling is it comes from the upper echelons of society. It’s also a problem faced by mining companies the world over, not just here in northern South America.
The land I visited was populated by the Maroon tribe, descendents of escaped slaves who have fought vigorously for their rights over the years.
Ernest has been mining illegally on the IAMGOLD site for three years.
“I know it’s wrong but I can’t do it any other way. I’ve tried to get work with IAMGOLD. I have children so I have to do something.,” he said.
“I think IAMGOLD is destroying the local environment. I am from the local tribe and we have the right to be on this property because we were here years before the Canadians. It’s Suriname’s gold and they’re stealing it.”
For IAMGOLD, putting up with illegal miners in their backyard is part of the cost of doing business in Suriname.
For the illegal miners it’s a race against time to get as much of the gold for themselves as they can before it’s all gone.