Technology and State Capacity: Experimental Evidence from Illegal Mining in Colombia

69 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2021 Last revised: 23 Jan 2024

See all articles by Santiago Saavedra

Santiago Saavedra

Universidad del Rosario - Faculty of Economics

Date Written: January 15, 2024


Monitoring technologies can help curb illegal activities by providing new information or the threat that the information is widely available. I created a novel technology using machine-learning on satellite imagery to detect illegal mining. Then I disclosed the technology and possible mine locations to government agents to study the impact on illegal activity. I randomly assigned municipalities to one of four groups: (1) information to the observer (local government) about the technology and potential mine locations in his jurisdiction; (2) information to the enforcer (National government); (3) information to both observer and enforcer, and (4) a control group, where I informed no agent. I use an independent expert-validated dataset to evaluate the effect of the intervention in the percentage of gold mining area mined illegally. I find that the treatment effect of disclosing the technology is relatively similar regardless of who is informed: in treated municipalities, illegal mining is reduced in the disclosed locations and surrounding areas. When accounting for negative spillovers --- increases in illegal mining in areas not targeted by the information --- the net reduction is one third smaller. These results illustrate the benefits of new technologies for building state capacity and reducing illegal activity.

Keywords: Illegal mining, Monitoring technology, Colombia

JEL Classification: H26, K42, O13, O17, Q53

Suggested Citation

Saavedra, Santiago, Technology and State Capacity: Experimental Evidence from Illegal Mining in Colombia (January 15, 2024). Available at SSRN: or

Santiago Saavedra (Contact Author)

Universidad del Rosario - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Casa Pedro Fermín
Calle 12C # 4-69

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