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The up-and-coming mining capital in Brazil’s Center-West

. Dec 07, 2020
mining goiás brazil Mining site in Goiás. Photo: Wildes Barbosa/Gov. Goiás

In the 16th century, the pioneering journeys to occupy inland Brazil were fueled by a thirst for minerals and precious metals — gold, in particular. Setting off from São Paulo, the so-called “bandeirantes” rode, cut, slaved, and explored their way through the untouched territories of Brazil’s interior, opening up paths through mountains and forests. Often they would come across rivers with alluvial gold deposits, with pieces of the metal that were large enough to be collected by hand.

The majority of these deposits were found in what is now the state of Minas Gerais — or “general mines,” as it was called, due to its apparent mineral wealth.

</p> <p>These discoveries kicked off a wave of migration and made Minas Gerais the largest supplier of wealth to the <a href="https://brazilian.report/guide-to-brazil/2017/10/15/brazil-independence-portugal-september-7/">colonial rulers in Portugal</a>. Until today, Brazilian gold can be seen in many of the country&#8217;s churches.</p> <p>The demand for gold was such that the deposits were quickly exhausted for the extractive techniques available at the time, leading the bandeirantes to ride on in search of new lands, decimating indigenous populations as they went.</p> <p>The next stop was the land of Goiás, now the <a href="https://www.britannica.com/place/Goias-state-Brazil">most populous state</a> in Brazil&#8217;s Center-West region. With its more hostile terrain, the Goiás gold rush was short-lived, but the advent of new technologies and techniques brought the state back to the heady days of mining in the second half of the 20th century. More recently, <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2019/04/12/energy-nuclear-brazil-powerhouse/">further technological advances</a> have allowed for the extraction of hundreds of minerals, leading to the enrichment of dozens of Goiás cities.</p> <p>In the 2000s, the northern portion of Goiás was responsible for three-quarters of the state&#8217;s mineral production in terms of exports and tax revenue. This relatively new mining region encompasses 15 municipalities which, before the arrival of mining companies, were desperately impoverished. Not even agribusiness — the state&#8217;s other driving force — could prosper in northern Goiás, thanks to its poor quality soil, irregular terrain, scant water supply, and lack of government investment.</p> <p>The array of minerals on offer is enviable. Copper and gold are extracted from Alto Horizonte, with the latter also being found in the colonial municipalities of Mara Rosa, Guarinos, and Pilar de Goiás. Barro Alto extracts bauxite and nickel — the metal which, after being found in the nearby town of São José de Tocantins, led the municipality to change its name to Niquelândia, or &#8220;Nickel Land.&#8221; In Minaçu, the local economy is based almost entirely on the production and sale of <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/09/21/mining-brazilian-town-that-asbestos-built/">carcinogenic substance asbestos</a>.</p> <h2>Mining in Goiás, a crisis-proof sector</h2> <p>With seven million inhabitants and the seventh-largest area of all Brazilian states, Goiás ranks ninth in terms of local GDP. For the last three years, the state has enjoyed its largest period of growth, bucking nationwide trends.</p> <p>Currently, 39 percent of Goiás&#8217; exports come from mining, a sector which directly employs 7,000 people in the state, along with another 160,000 indirect jobs. Forecasts suggest these numbers will increase to 10,000 and 180,000 direct and indirect jobs, respectively, by 2022, with BRL 8 billion (USD 1.57 billion) in investment.</p> <p>&#8220;Mining has a very important role in the process of <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/08/05/industry-understanding-brazil-latest-economic-figures/">economic recovery</a>, above all in agribusiness, with the production of raw materials. It is the industry of industry, responsible for producing inputs for manufacturers,&#8221; says Wilson Borges, president of the Mining Chamber (Casmin) of the Goiás Industry Federation (Fieg).</p> <p>And Mr. Borges has good reason to be optimistic, even amid the global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The favorable international prices for mineral products — such as iron and gold — saw Brazil&#8217;s mining revenue hit BRL 50.7 billion in the third quarter of 2020, 29.3 percent more than results for the previous quarter. From January to September, overall revenue reached BRL 125 billion, according to data from the Brazilian Mining Institute (Ibram).</p> <p>The institute also points out that Brazil&#8217;s mining investment is expected to reach close to USD 40 billion in the next four to five years. These projections also include much criticized plans to <a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2020/02/14/brazil-indigenous-handed-death-sentence-new-mining-bill/">extract minerals from protected indigenous lands</a>.</p> <h2>Foreign involvement</h2> <p>As is the case in Brazil&#8217;s two mining powerhouse states Minas Gerais and Pará, extraction activities in Goiás include significant involvement from foreign companies. Besides Canadian firms Yamana Gold and Amarillo Gold, British company Anglo American and South Africa&#8217;s Anglo Gold Ashanti are also present. The latter has operated in Brazil for over 180 years, and is currently the country&#8217;s largest gold producer. Anglo Gold Ashanti&#8217;s ventures in Goiás are located in the town of Crixás, by way of domestic subsidiary Mineração Serra Grande.</p> <p>In October, Amarillo Gold began work to construct an industrial gold mining facility in Mara Rosa, with an investment of approximately BRL 600 million. Operations are set to begin in the second half of 2022 and the mine has an estimated lifespan of ten years. The venture is set to be one of the region&#8217;s first greenfield projects, constructing the facility from scratch and using dry stacking as opposed to building tailings dams.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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