In order to justify their performance, mining companies promise to bring prosperity, jobs and well-being to the regions where they operate. But what is, in fact, the situation of those who live, eat and produce food in the municipalities that are affected by mining?
“My diet got worse”
In the Ilha Brava community, in Governador Valadares (MG), there was no ore extraction, but 270 km away, in Mariana, a Samarco (Vale and BHP) dam broke in 2015, releasing more than 60 million cubic meters of tailings in the Rio do Doce basin. The community, which depended on the river for fishing and agriculture, had its life abruptly changed.
The Joelma Fernandes island grows cassava, sweet potato, vegetables, lemon, mango and star fruit in agro-ecological cultivation for its own consumption and for sale at a family farm fair in the city. Most of the planting takes place on a river island, without using pesticides. “With each flood that there was, the water rose and came an organic compound that renewed the earth”, he recalls.
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With the collapse of Samarco’s dam, the soil was contaminated, the planted areas decreased, production fell and costs increased. “We use gasoline to irrigate the island. The electricity bill also increased and to produce it became more expensive. Where we sold 100, we started to sell 40, 30 units. We sell manioc to buy rice!” complains Joelma.
After the crime, Samarco and the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais signed an agreement providing for the payment, to those who lost their source of income, of a monthly allowance of a minimum wage plus 20% per dependent, in addition to the value of a basic food basket. In early 2021, the Federal Court extended the payment of aid until the end of this year.
Before, Joelma lived with a family income of more than R$ 6 thousand a month. Today, adding the aid and what she takes from production, the income has dropped by half, to support Joelma, four children and three grandchildren. Another loss was not being able to fish anymore. “Before, we ate fish during the week and only bought beef to barbecue on the weekend. Today, my diet has deteriorated and I pay more”.
“Mining breaks the food chain”
Even where dams have not been breached, food production and consumption suffer the impacts of mining since the project is installed. The theme was discussed in a document of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in 2017, the “Atlas: mapping the objectives of sustainable development in mining”.
“Mining companies should consider the impact of operations on their neighbors’ livelihoods and identify ways to build trust and avoid or minimize negative impacts”, defends the United Nations text, inviting companies to adopt maintenance as targets free land and livestock, improve watershed management, promote increased agricultural productivity, and combat child malnutrition and hunger.
However, this has not been the practice of mining companies in most cases.
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“Mining breaks the food chain, compromising people’s survival”, assesses Marta de Freitas, from the coordination of the Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM). According to her, the enterprises frequently expel family and subsistence agriculture, either because they compete with farmers for land ownership, or because they generate water scarcity, which is common in mined cities.
Agronomist Anna Crystina Alvarenga, a member of the Articulação Mineira de Agroecology (AMA), observes that agricultural production has been profoundly affected.
“We can see a change in water resources and also in the climate. There is soil contamination, alteration of physical characteristics. There is a very large impact on guaranteeing effective agricultural production, or that which farmers were used to, on the quantitative production capacity”, he explains.
Dependence, migration and famine
Governments build infrastructure for mining companies. In the short term, it becomes more profitable for those who have some money to provide services to mining than to invest in other activities. The sector becomes, then, the main source of occupation and income in the municipality.
“Either you work for mining or you work for those who provide services to mining or you don’t have a job”, says Marta de Freitas.
In search of employment, workers from other regions of the state or the country migrate to mined cities. Rent and food prices go up.
As mining does not produce two harvests, later on, jobs are closed and there are no other options for most employees.
This has been the case in Parauapebas, in the Southeast region of Pará. A former employee of Vale and a resident of the agrarian reform settlement Palmares Sul, Evaldo Fideles says that the implementation of the company’s projects in the region caused a population explosion in the community. “Now, there are people from all over Brazil here”.
According to Evaldo, mining also made part of the rural workforce migrate to the urban environment.
“Our youth turned their vision a lot to providing services in these projects. The guy earns between R$1,100 and R$1,600 to work hard. Then he becomes unemployed and goes to the Sine queue [o Sistema Nacional de Emprego]. When they are going to implement a project, civil construction employs 1,000 people. But after six months, the work is finished and it reduces to 200. Where will the other 800 go?”, he asks.
Famine is another effect felt by the population. “Here, to make a basic purchase of the month, you spend R$ 800. The cost of living is very high. Working in Carajás, I met several operators who came from Ouro Preto and, within three months, asked to be sent back or sent away because, with the salary they lived well in their city, they didn’t live well here”, he argues.
Something similar occurs in the municipality of Barão de Cocais, in the Central Region of Minas Gerais. For years, the city has received workers from other regions, looking for jobs at Vale or its service providers. They go to live in lodgings, try to save what they get and send some money back to the family.
Psychologist Júnior Vilhena says that food in Cocais is much more expensive than in other cities where he has lived. “The purchase I used to make for a month and a half in Viçosa doesn’t reach the end of the month here”.
Vilhena, who works at a city hall shelter, says that there are frequent cases of employees with mental illness, alcoholism and job loss.
“People sometimes know that they are going to eat here and now. Tomorrow depends on the company, whether it will be able to work or not. If you are homeless, there is no certainty. At the shelter, the city provides food.”
In Brumadinho, in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte, more than 4,000 residents from other cities arrived to work on rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the collapse of a Vale dam two years ago.
Reinaldo Fernandes, editor of the newspaper De Fato and member of the Somos Todos Atingidos articulation, organized, with the popular and union movement, a solidarity campaign to distribute food to these workers in the pandemic.
“We even helped a group here in Brumadinho who rented a house, but inside the house, there was no pot, nothing,” he recalls.
The report tried to contact some of the workers from Parauapebas, Barão de Cocais and Brumadinho, but they refused to give an interview.
Source: BoF Minas Gerais
Edition: Elis Almeida