Provided employment to over 1,300 local community members to date
The Community Engagement team is led by Leonor Vegas, whom, like Maria de los Angeles as head of Environment, originates from Loja in southern Ecuador. Four members of her seven-person team are from the Cutucu Cordillera.
Aurania’s first step in the mineral exploration of the Cutucu Cordillera is to ask permission to access the land of each community. The Community Engagement team flies to remote airstrips and walks from there to the surrounding villages to speak to the leaders of those communities. This initial engagement is usually followed by a presentation to the community of the planned exploration group, with a video of the nature of the stream sediment sampling, the fly camps and other key aspects of initial work. On acceptance by the community, guides and assistants are identified by the community leaders to accompany the Company’s exploration teams. An entry date is scheduled for the geologists and exploration teams to enter the area, to link up with the guides and assistants to head to the field for up to three weeks at a time.
In many cases this is the first time that people from these communities have been employed in their own land. Farm produce, where available, is purchased from the local communities and transported by mule into the exploration teams’ fly camps. Mules, horses and canoes are hired from the communities to help with the transport of supplies and extraction of samples.
To date, over 1,300 members of the communities have had part-time employment with Aurania in its exploration, community, environmental and water-related work. The Social Engagement team works with the leadership of each community to ensure an equitable distribution of work amongst willing community members. The Social Engagement team is working with the Ministry of Finance to help the local people set up small service companies for the Company’s local procurement initiative. Exploration teams in remote areas, wherever available, buy supplies from local communities, hire their horses, mules and canoes for transport. This work and associated local procurement of goods and services has provided income directly and indirectly to 1,500 families. In 2019, the Company spent over US$540,000 on locally procured goods and services in Morona-Santiago Province.
There are airstrips in some communities and the Company has provided supplies and then worked with the communities in “mingas” (community work-sessions) to maintain the airstrips in good condition for service by Cessna 206 and Britten-Norman Islander light planes.
The Company acts as a link between the Ministry of Agriculture and the communities in setting up agricultural plots that serve as training centers where agricultural methods can be taught, and new crops reintroduced. Local community are trained in the care of crops, crop rotation and the integration of commercial crops with indigenous crops and produce. Production is pooled in a co-op style to work towards critical mass for marketing.
Aurania is also assisting with an initiative of the Ministry of Education to reestablish schools in the Cutucu Cordillera. The education initiative is aimed at children as well as adults.
Aurania works closely with the Chairman’s Step Forward Foundation and the Ministry of Social & Economic Inclusion, to identify vulnerable groups in order for the government to assess whether assistance is warranted. This includes assisting with baseline studies and providing data from the communities with which we work.
Water quality is the overriding health issue in the Cutucu Cordillera. As discussed further below, the Company is working with SENAGUA, the entity within the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for water affairs throughout Ecuador.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Company purchased eight tonnes of basic food including rice, beans, lentils and canned sardines for distribution in 44 communities. These provisions were dropped off by road and by aircraft to the remotest communities for distribution to approximately 970 families by the leaders of the communities. A second drop of 10 tonnes of dried food was delivered to 1,292 families in 49 communities.
We work under the guidelines of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and use the social risk management framework according to the Equator Principles. The Lost Cities – Cutucu Project is located on land of the Indigenous Shuar people. Our teams are on a steep learning curve of insights into Shuar ancestral knowledge about the environment, including superfoods and medicinal plants that are indigenous to the Cutucu mountain range.