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Championing conservation: How mining is shaping nature and development with communities

In their work to help create a nature positive future, ICMM members are partnering with governments and local communities to shape the impact of mining and metals operations on an area’s environmental and economic development.

Nature plays a crucial role in supporting and sustaining the economy in multifaceted ways. Natural resources, including forests, fisheries, and minerals, form the basis for numerous local, national and international economic activities, supplying raw materials for manufacturing and energy production, as well as the foundation for all agricultural activities. 

Additionally, nature-based tourism generates substantial revenue, attracting visitors to scenic landscapes, wildlife habitats, and pristine environments. Recognising and preserving the value of nature is not just an environmental imperative; it is a fundamental economic necessity that ensures long-term sustainability and prosperity.

Here are several projects that demonstrate how cooperation with local communities is boosting nature conservation and development through targeted funding, education and equipment.

A boost for family farming in Brazil

In Barcarena, a collaborative project called Ativa Barcarena (Active Barcarena) is focusing on agroecological methods that helps not only farmers but also the local environment to prosper. Agroecology is a way of farming that aims to mimic natural ecosystems in farming using organic processes to control pests and build soil fertility. 

The project is a partnership between Hydro, Albras and the Peabiru Institute. To date, it has resulted in 24 demonstration units being installed in rural communities that are collectively managed by farmers to produce biofertilisers and other sustainable agricultural products. 

The scheme is enabling farmers to optimise resources and boost income as well as developing a sustainable farming method that cares for the land. 

Irrigating the land in Niger

A project to irrigate 1,000 hectares of land in Niger, implemented by the State of Niger and Orano, is creating numerous benefits for local communities and farmers. The main objective of the Irhazer project is to support the population of this desert area with food, nutrition and access to water.

Started in 2011, the project is part of the "Nigeriens feed Nigeriens" initiative, which aims to achieve zero hunger by 2035. Located in northern Niger, the project is developing the skills of local producers and building up the capacity of cooperatives to enable independent and profitable management of crop and livestock sites.

The main beneficiaries are the producers, the surrounding population, nomads, local service providers and women's organiations. 

With the creation of direct and indirect jobs, more than 35,000 people and 5,000 households will ultimately benefit from this project. The Irhazer project is considered a model by local and regional stakeholders. It is currently the only project of its kind in Niger.

Conservation work in Madagascar

Positive impact in communities can show up in numerous ways. In Madagascar, QMM (80 per cent owned by Rio Tinto and 20 per cent owned by the Madagascan government) works hand in hand with traditional land users to identify and protect biodiversity and the natural landscape. 

It has implemented a conservation programme that commits to increasing natural forest cover, preserving priority species and ensuring that any loss of biodiversity in mining areas is compensated for. QMM also provides funding for equipment and business development training to a local honey co-operative. This supports sustainable livelihoods through helping producers to harvest and sell more than 4,800 litres of honey from 500 beehives in the remote region of Ampasy Nahampoana.

Collaboration brings progress across many territories

Anglo American is using a partnership-based model to accelerate sustainable development in all of its locations. The company is working with governments, local industry, NGOs, academics and communities to understand what action can be undertaken to improve lives. 

It is supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses in Brazil and Chile, helping businesses in the Moquegua region of southern Peru to get access to capital, creating new jobs in Botswana and funding black business start-ups in South Africa. 

Support depends significantly on the local context and the economic opportunities that exist in a particular region. Among the beneficiaries of Anglo American’s Sustainable Mining Plan is a fresh produce market in Rustenburg, South Africa. 

The result of a partnership between Anglo American, Freshlinq, World Vision and the Rustenburg local municipality, is a market that aims to provide emerging vendors and producers with economic opportunities that sustainably support agricultural and economic development opportunities locally. In shortening the supply chain, sellers enjoy cost benefits and the quality of the produce is also improved. 

Piloting new initiatives

The Mpumalanga Winter Wheat Pilot is a collaborative initiative implemented by ICMM, Impact Catalyst and Business for Development to investigate whether rehabilitated mined land and mine-impacted water offer sustainable livelihood opportunities for local communities.

The pilot was implemented between April 2021 and January 2022 and included rehabilitated coal mining land at the Umsimbithi-owned Wonderfontein mine and nearby community land. The pilot shows promising results with crops using mine impacted water offering higher yields than those planted on virgin soil. 

The pilot provides a great example of how through careful planning and collaboration, mine closure can bring new opportunities for leaving behind a positive social and environmental legacy.

Educating the next generation in Australia

South32’s Intelligent Land Management plan is a framework to increase climate resilience by building shared social, economic and environmental value for the regions in which it operates. 

One of its many schemes has been working with a primary school in New South Wales to replant canopy trees and to educate pupils about critical ecosystems that are endangered. The schoolchildren planted 250 saplings on a recent planting day, filling up gaps in forests and providing homes for local wildlife to thrive.

These are just a few of the many projects being undertaken to create meaningful, sustainable change. 

ICMM members understand that this work is about more than simply regenerating land and boosting nature. Whether it is through introducing sustainable farming methods, educating children on conservation, supporting people to develop fledgling businesses or funding vital community services, collaboration and partnership can help ensure nature programmes deliver vital support for local communities. This must be tailored and unique to each community, helping to keep the region thriving long after a mine has closed.