November 8th, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

Gold Mining in Ghana: Playing with Mercury


Photo: Maddy Crowell

NESTLED in a former cocoa-farming region in southwestern Ghana, the town of Prestea boasts more than 150 small-scale gold mines in the backyards of abandoned farms. The town, with a population of about 35,000, also sits covered in permanent smog—a red dust that stains white goats crimson. It is the result of lethal mercury, on which miners all over Ghana rely to refine their gold. In Prestea, where gravediggers are in greater supply than doctors, death from mercury poisoning is routine.

Thus begins Maddy Crowell’s powerful story in the Economist Magazine.  Maddy is an alum of our Morocco journalism program.  A senior at Carleton College, she was reporting in Ghana over her summer break.  Maddy and her Ghanaian partner, Jamila Okertchiri, approached Round Earth for mentoring on this shocking and important story.


July 10th, 2012  |  By Round Earth Media

What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?

A little girl in the doorway of her house in the Bolivian Subtropics. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. | Photo by Katherine McDonald

Here’s Round Earth Media intern Emma Foehringer Merchant with more about why some nations fail and others succeed.

It is blatantly obvious that certain states have had some sort of leg up in becoming world powers. Just what offered these countries their advantage? Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson explain in their book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, reviewed by Jared Diamond (author of the best-selling Guns, Germs and Steel) in last month’s New York Review of Books. Here’s their take.

What do successful nations have in common?

Good political and economic institutions that form a stable state (in constrast to states with deep tribal divisions) are the main common denominator between rich countries, according to economists Acemoglu and Robinson. These institutions allow for a centralized and well-regulated government. Political and economic institutions the two authors define as “good” are those that encourage citizen participation in the economic system.  Good institutions protect peoples’ rights and livelihoods and disallow corruption and insecurity.  As Diamond explains, “people are motivated to work hard if they have opportunities to invest their earnings profitably, but not if they have few such opportunities or if their earnings or profits are likely to be confiscated.”

What makes a country poor?

Acemoglu and Robinson provide some reasons for economic deficiencies in certain states including:


June 18th, 2012  |  By Round Earth Media

Bolivian President Caught in the Middle

Highway construction of a road that would have cut through the Bolivian Amazon was halted after thousands protested | Photo by Libby Arnosti

Listen to this story

The following is a transcript. To listen to this broadcast, please click the link above.

Bruce Gellerman: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.


Gellerman: In Bolivia, the people spoke and the government listened. For three months, a thousand people marched across the Andes Mountains, closing roads, enduring police crackdown and arrest. They were protesting the government’s plan to build a highway through indigenous lands and Amazon forest. Bolivian President Evo Morales gave in to the protesters and scrapped the project. But while demonstrators may have won this round, the fight over how to develop Bolivia’s economy and protect its environmental future continues. Mary Stucky reports.


July 7th, 2010  |  By Mary Stucky

Our Central America Project

Gold mining in El Salvador: Pacific Rim verdict expected in August 2010

As we get closer to our trip to Central America, we will be blogging about some of the most important issues facing the region. One of the most contentious issues facing the country of El Salvador is gold mining. Is it an economic boon or an environmental disaster? From journalist Ambar Espinoza, the latest on the case involving the so-called Pacific Rim mine.


February 13th, 2010  |  By Mary Stucky


mx city earthquake from wikimediaNow, a month after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I’m reminded of the many conversations I had with people in Mexico City over recent weeks. While I struggled to comprehend what it might have been like to feel the earth shake and buildings topple, many Chilangos, as residents of Mexico City sometimes call themselves, were eager to tell me what had happened and how it had felt in 1985 when a massive earthquake killed at least 4500 people – most likely many more. 

(Photo of Mexico City earthquake: Wikimedia)

November 6th, 2009  |  By Round Earth Media

Mekong Dams

The Mekong River flows through 6 countries. | Photo by Mary Stucky

The Mekong River flows through six countries. | Photo by Mary Stucky

In the United States, Canada and Europe, some old hydroelectric dams are being torn down, rejected as environmentally destructive or too expensive to repair or replace. But that’s not the case in parts of the developing world, including Southeast Asia. There dams are being built along the biologically rich Mekong River and its tributaries. In just one small country, Laos, seven large dams are currently under construction, and over 50 more are on the drawing board.  Some see this as a major threat to biodiversity.


May 6th, 2008  |  By Round Earth Media

Bolivia Protects Potato Diversity

Papa Lisa in the market in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Papa Lisa in the market in Cochabamba, Bolivia | All photos by Don Losure

By Mary Stucky

Nowhere is the lowly potato more revered than in the Andes of South America. This is where potatoes originated. In just two countries — Peru and Bolivia — there some 10,000 different varieties of potatoes, in colors ranging from green to black to pink. Each has a unique taste and culinary purpose.


November 30th, 2007  |  By Mary Losure

Ecuador Rainforest Travel

The Bataburo lodge is situated in the Ecuadorian rainforest.  |  Photo by Don Losure

The Bataburo lodge is situated in the Ecuadorian rainforest. | Photo by Don Losure

By Mary Losure

“There!” Our guide, Cirilo Tapui, points with his machete. “A gigantic woodpecker.”

I follow his gaze. Gigantic is right.

A ray of sun backlights the bird’s brilliant red crest as it pounds its huge beak on a dead tree — THWOK! THWOK! THWOK! Here in the Ecuadorian Amazon, immense and flashy birds like this still thrive, along with monkeys, tapirs, caimans and even, here and there, a jaguar.

And it’s possible, with a reasonable amount of trouble and expense, to see this rain forest wilderness firsthand. It’s not always easy or comfortable, but if you like nature (in rather large doses), it’s worth everything it takes to get there, and then some.


November 26th, 2007  |  By Mary Losure

Ecuador Fair Trade Roses

Flower plantation worker Elvia Ordonez. | Photo by Don Losure

Flower plantation worker Elvia Ordonez. | Photo by Don Losure

Planning to buy a bouquet of roses for someone you love?

If, like 90 percent of the roses sold in the U.S. today, they’re imported, they may have a dark history. The workers who grew them might have been child laborers. The blooms might have been exposed to deadly, environment-polluting pesticides.

But those scenarios are beginning to change. Move over, fair-trade coffee. Now, there are fair-trade flowers.


September 3rd, 2007  |  By Round Earth Media

Peru’s Natural Viagra Center of Controversy

Ana Luna Derente and her husband Vicente Fijueroa sell maca liquor in the market in Junin.

Ana Luna Derente and her husband Vicente Fijueroa sell maca liquor in the market in Junin. | All photos by Don Losure

Long before the drug Viagra, Indians in Peru had their own libido enhancer — an unassuming root called maca.

Maca caught the attention of a U.S. company, which got a patent on this so-called natural Viagra. And just a few months ago, Wal-Mart started selling the tonic.

But Peru is crying foul, claiming maca was stolen from the people who knew about it first.


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