Mercedes Arias Martínez,
between coffee and gold
56 year old Mercedes Arias has dedicated her life to cultivating coffee and mining. Today she is a member of the Iquira Agrominera Multiactive Cooperative (certified with the Fairmined Standard since 2014) and has witnessed the positive impacts that small-scale mining has brought to the families in the Iquira municipality in the department of Huila, Colombia.
Mining arrived to the mountains of the Íquira municipality a little over 15 years ago. It was from that moment that Mercedes decided to dedicate herself to this job, discovering little by little and learning with effort and dedication. “Since mining arrived in this zone, the creation of jobs has improved the lives of the families here”, says Mercedes.
Today, she is a member of the Cooperative, demystifying the belief that mining is only for men. Her husband, children and son-in-law are also members, meaning this work is the main source of income for her family, in addition to the cultivation of coffee, bananas and cassava.
Mercedes began without knowing anything about mining, but her tenacity led her to become a connoisseur of the trade. “At the beginning we worked using candlelight because there was no electricity. We used pick axes, spikes and pots; Everything was very handmade, and we worked like this for a while. Then we began to use electric hammers and got better. Today compressors are used to get the job done. This allows a more technical execution and generates more opportunities.”
Mercedes has fond memories of her times working in the mine. She has since decided to stop this line of work because of her age: “When you like doing something, you do it with love. I was happy there [in the mine]. I went in at 6 in the morning, went out for lunch and we left at 6 in the evening.”
 Equipment used in mining operations to prepare the rock before drilling tunnels with processes such as the use of explosives.
“There is a myth that women cannot enter the tunnels because they make the gold disappear. That was not my case — I always worked”, Mercedes says when asked about mining women.
“I always tell them: it’s nice to work, integrate, and learn,” says Mercedes, who feels machismo is still strong in her region and is the reason why many women do not dare to do anything other than stay at home and depend on their husbands.
Even so, the Cooperative has the participation of 10 women among members and hired workers (from the Fairmined Production System). This mining organization promotes participation from women, inviting them to integrate as members or workers.
 Among the 41 members and the 52 hired workers of the Cooperative.
The Cooperative´s Transformations
For Mercedes, Fairmined granted an opportunity to improve mining practices that protect the environment and guarantee that they obtain a fair price for their gold. “With the certification, we all play on the same side and we all meet the same parameters. It has been great because there is order. We already know that we must be responsible, and this generates changes for the better,” she says.
Today, one of the dreams of the Cooperative is to have jewelry with Fairmined certified gold and silver. As far as progress goes, they have already carried out jewelry workshops with the workers. Mercedes says they want to receive support from Fairmined jewelers and buyers to help them achieve this goal.