Big Picture: Gold Fever

Miners in a gold mine pit in Indonesia

As part of her research on dynamics of agrarian and forest transformations, professor of political ecology Nancy Lee Peluso spent seven months in Indonesia documenting smallholder gold mining, an unregulated industry that has exploded in the past 20 years. Shown here, miners use high-pressure hoses to break down the earth and dredge it up and over sluices on higher ground. After extracting gold flakes from the mud, they use mercury to consolidate the gold by hand. The mining is often environmentally destructive and is hazardous to workers’ health. Nevertheless, it offers a shot at prosperity for rural communities exposed to the market risks of industrial agriculture, the primary driver of forest conversion in Indonesian Borneo, where this photo was taken. For many, mining is a better option than the meager returns on smallholder farming or the indignity of plantation work on land they once claimed as their own.

See a longer photo essay on this topic by Peluso on the New Mandala