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Sustainability and co-existence: Innovative solutions for artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in Brazil

Carlos Henrique and Giorgio de Tomi from NAP.Mineração in conversation with an artisanal miner in Amapá, Brazil.
Photo by Carlos Henrique
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In December 2022, the World Bank brought together over 140 practitioners and experts in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) from around the world for a two-day conference in Nairobi, Kenya to reflect on the lessons learned from the World Bank’s Covid-19 emergency response for ASM mining communities, and to discuss ways to improve ASM practice going forward. Over 50 speakers shared their experience and debated views on ASM in relation to topics such as health and OHS, supply chains, finance, sexual and gender-based violence, alternative livelihoods, access to markets, access to land, and partnerships development.

Day one of the conference set out with case studies and testimonies from partner organizations and miners who participated in the COVID-19 emergency response window. The following blog has been adapted from the testimony provided by Carlos Henrique Xavier Araujo, PhD candidate and researcher at the Centre for Responsible Mining (NAP.Mineração) at the University of São Paulo:

Artisanal gold miners in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil.
Photo by Carlos Henrique

Our goal is to share a testimony of the impact of COVID-19 on the work of the Centre for Responsible Mining (NAP.Mineração) at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, as well as the solutions implemented in the context of the World Bank’s Extractives Global Programmatic Trust Fund (EGPS) emergency response. We would also like to share the lessons learned and our views on how to transform the ASM sector.

Over the course of the last two years, with support and funding from EGPS, the Centre for Responsible Mining (NAP.Mineração) at the University of São Paulo carried out multiple activities in support of ASM miners in the Amazon region.

In 2020, NAP.Mineração carried out the activity “Sustainability in Peixoto de Azevedo” in the Brazilian Midwest where the pandemic exposed deficiencies in the public health sector. Local mining cooperatives became essential in providing health care means and economic support for miners and their families. The pandemic also mobilized cooperatives to look for more efficient methods to organize themselves and identify improved techniques for gold production with less environmental and health impacts in the future.

In October 2021, NAP.Mineração launched the initiative "ASGM Co-existence in Brazil" which was financed by the EGPS Emergency response. The activity’s focus was to better understand local ASGM miners' perceptions in establishing a co-existence business model with conventional gold mining partners.

In order to get a sense of the local realities, we worked with two mining cooperatives; the Cooperative of Artisanal Miners of Rio Peixoto (COOGAVEPE) located in the municipality of Peixoto de Azevedo in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, and the ASGM Cooperative located in the Lourenço District in northern Brazil, a region widely recognized to host one of the most traditional gold mines in the Amazon. Between these two cooperatives, a total of 7,000 miners were directly impacted by the intervention.

A range of interviews with miners and mining cooperatives helped NAP.Mineração design a series of capacity-building programs and training. These capacity-building programs were structured around five areas: Strengthening cooperative governance, environmental management and mine closure, occupational health and safety, gender equity, and technical guidelines to promote best practices in ASGM. NAP.Mineração and the Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives (OCB) further committed to continue and disseminate these capacity-building programs among more than ninety-five cooperatives in Brazil, with the potential to reach fifty-nine thousand Brazilian artisanal miners. The capacity-building programs in Portuguese can be accessed at the link.

Artisanal gold miners in the state of Pará, Brazil.
Photo by Carlos Henrique

NAP.Mineração also made significant progress in promoting a co-existence business model. There are different models of co-existence proposed in the literature (Tarra et al. (2022), Veiga et al. (2022)), but most successful examples in Latin America include conventional gold mining companies (CGM) installing and operating processing plants to process the tailings of the artisanal miners’ operations. Successful cases involve not only the processing of the tailings but also technical assistance to miners, as well as other capacity building initiatives. Successful examples of co-existence tend to put an emphasis on engaging miners and establishing balanced and transparent agreements between CGM and miners. Over the last 12 months, we researched, studied, and carried out a survey with 113 miners in two study regions to identify the reasons for resistance to and future opportunities for any type of co-existence between artisanal miners and conventional mining companies. The results of the survey indicated that most of the participants consider a co-existence model an attractive idea, as the sale of extracted materials and tailings would represent additional income for them.

A technical fieldtrip to Colombia provided further insight into local examples of co-existence: 20 representatives from different institutions discussed Colombia’s co-existence experience with the Brazilian delegation.

NAP.Mineração observed that co-existence business models demand time to create trust. The leaders of cooperatives as well as local regulations can facilitate the process of co-existence if taking into account the expectations of ASM miners and other stakeholders. The transformation of the ASM sector requires engagement with miners, the government, the private sector, and the other stakeholders, with a focus on social justice, equality, and the well-being of the most vulnerable.

Watch – Coexistence: An innovative Solution for ASGM in Latin America

Related literature

Tarra, J.A.; Restrepo, O. J.; Veiga, M. M. (2022). Coexistence between conventional alluvial mining and artisanal mining to deal with problems associated with informality in the lower Nechí River Basin-Colombia. Resources Policy, v. 79.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resourpol.2022.102821

Veiga, M. M.; Tarra, J. A.; Restrepo-Baena, O. J.; De Tomi, G. F. (2022). Coexistence of artisanal gold mining with companies in Latin America. The Extractive Industries and Society, v. 12, p. 1-9.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2022.101177 022

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