As the largest country in South America, Brazil’s vast territory is rich with minerals and ores. We take a deep dive into the nation’s mining industry as a crucial element in driving the economy.
The Brazilian mining industry is centuries old, with the country’s first discovery of gold recorded in 1693 in the state of Minas Gerais. Despite this rich history, it has experienced the most growth in recent years. In 2021 alone, the country’s mining revenue was reported to have increased by 62 percent. Indeed, Brazil has long occupied a spot among the top five mineral producers in the world, qualifying the country’s mining industry as a dynamic force in the global arena.
While mining in Brazil is centred on metals such as iron ore, gold, copper, and aluminium, it is known as the world’s largest producer of niobium. The rare grey metal is used to make jet engines, airplane bodies, superconducting magnets, and bridges. As Brazil has the largest reserves of niobium on the planet, in 2021 the country produced 66 metric tonnes of the plentiful resource.
However, metallic mining remains the most relevant mineral activity, with the most valued commodities being iron ore, gold and copper. In fact, iron ore accounts for almost 74 percent of the industry’s yield. Most of the minerals are concentrated in the states of Minas Gerais and Pará – an area that also produces gold and diamonds, although these quantities fluctuate from year to year.
Mining in Brazil means more than unearthing minerals, since precious and semi-precious stones are extracted from various deposits throughout the country. Geologically, Brazil is a treasure trove of gemstone deposits, including emeralds, opals, topaz, and quartz (agate, amethyst and citrine), with the rare and valuable Paraíba tourmaline as the jewel in the crown. On a smaller scale, diamonds, rubies and sapphires complete nature’s jewellery box. Other, more quotidian resources include kaolin, phosphates, and coal. With the latter resource found in the southern states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil is entirely self-sufficient when it comes to harnessing energy from coal.
Known for its varied topography, 46 percent of Brazil is covered with Amazon Rainforest. Since the most biodiverse landscape on the planet is juxtaposed with one of its biggest and most profitable industries, the mines in Brazil must operate as ecologically as possible. Brazilian mining is striving to become more sustainable as the industry must reflect the expectations of both stakeholders and society by lessening the environmental impact of its processes.
Q&A WITH INSTITUTO BRASILEIRO DE MINERAÇÃO (IBRAM)
Raul Jungmann, CEO of IBRAM, delves into the sustainability of the Brazilian mining industry and explores its economic and environmental future.
Firstly, tell us about the origins of IBRAM – what led to its creation and what is its current vision and mission?
Raul Jungmann, CEO (RJ): IBRAM was created in 1976 to defend the legitimate interests of the mining industry, as a sector that is important and influential in the performance of the national economy. It is responsible for generating fundamental currency to positively balance the country’s trade. In addition, it attracts private multi-billion-dollar investments every year to Brazil.
As an inducer of good Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices, IBRAM is aligned with sustainability. It is also ethical and transparent in its relationships with people. Through influential partner initiatives, it promotes socio-economic development, inclusivity, and general quality of life for people.
IBRAM’s actions are aimed at building a new perspective for the future of Brazilian mining, by outlining strategies, and leading the industry’s transition into an even more productive phase, with sustainability, safety and responsibility at the centre.
What is your take on the mining industry in Brazil today?
Brazilian mining is a very exciting environment, as the activity will provide ores for building a more sustainable planet. The Brazilian mineral sector drives the economy and is the basis for the transformation of the industry. Ores are present in every aspect of industry, including agribusiness, and are irreplaceable and essential components for modern life and, above all, the evolution of human beings.
We act to combat unfair competition from illegal mining, which moves business with tonnes of ores – such as gold – and leaves a trail of environmental destruction, deaths, exploitation of people, tax evasion, among other crimes.
Furthermore, we seek to create a culture of national investments in mining and the establishment of mechanisms for raising funds in the capital market. Currently, few companies in the mineral sector are listed on the stock exchange in Brazil. The financial markets of Canada, Australia, and England are more prominent in the financing of mineral projects around the world, including Brazil.
Mining moves billions of reais every year, generates foreign exchange with significant exports for the positive balance of trade, but does not find support in terms of local financing. It is a situation that needs to change and IBRAM is acting in this sense.
How does IBRAM encourage sustainability in the sector?
Sustainability in business is good practice in all senses for any industry, sector or company. It is a continuing presence on the global market. For sustainability to advance, whether it is in mining or any other sector, it is necessary to make the production chains aware that acting in accordance with good practice, respect for legislation and going beyond what is required, is an attitude that will gain an excellent reputation for the corporation, or the entire sector.
The mining industry has uniquely organised its own ESG Agenda and is always improving and evolving. It is a continuous sectorial effort that provokes cultural and governance change and a movement that gains strength due to the voluntary adhesion of the companies in the sector. Those associated with IBRAM all have serious commitments to sustainability. The union of experience and knowledge provides the construction of a project that already presents practical results in the daily lives of companies.
In the case of the ESG Agenda, there are 12 areas that deserve special attention, such as safety, diversity and inclusion, the use of natural resources, energy, community relations, and impact mitigation among others. Together, we have better conditions than when we are isolated. This helps to establish goals, actions, and metrics in order to share advances with the whole of society in a transparent manner, as well as correct directions whenever necessary.
How do you envision mining in Brazil?
It is mining that is aligned with sustainability and ESG practices – it is ethical and transparent, inclusive and influential. This is the type of mining that IBRAM defends – a mining business that operates in full harmony with Brazilian legislation.
IBRAM works to strengthen relations between mining companies and industry professionals and suppliers, the government and society. It encourages innovation, knowledge and good practices while articulating business development opportunities for mining. It is always open to dialogue with other organisations; to listen, understand, propose, negotiate, motivate, engage and unite.
Does IBRAM have any projects or events that you would like to highlight?
In 2023, IBRAM will organise a series of events aimed at sharing news, knowledge, new practices and stimulating business in the world of the mineral sector.
We have a calendar of events with dates already set for this year:
- • Diversibram – Diversity and Inclusion Week for Mining in Brazil – an online event, 28th March.
- Mining Municipalities Award in Brasilia, 31st May.
- • e-MINERAÇÃO DO BRASIL, a virtual event, 4th and 5th July.
- Expo & Brazilian Mining Congress – EXPOISIBRAM, held at Belém, 29th to 31st August.
- Internacional Conference Amazon and New Economy, held at Belém, 30th and 31st August.
- Brazilian Open Pit and Underground Mine Congress – CBMINA, held at Belo Horizonte, 12th to 14th September.
In general, each IBRAM event has a range of opportunities for brand exposure actions, such as participation in podcasts, a media kit to associate brands to actions, technical lectures, short courses, sponsorship quotas, etc. More information can be found at https://ibram.org.br/ibram-principais-eventos/
Looking ahead, what are IBRAM’s main priorities for the next year?
One of the institute’s priorities is to obtain greater recognition from Brazilians, from public authorities to citizens in general, that mining needs to be supported and encouraged in this country. It is an activity that is considered a public utility, it generates unequivocal contributions to the economy, and it is among the economic sectors that invest the most in environmental preservation. Essentially, it is a fundamental partner for the socio-environmental and economic development of Brazilians in the long term.
We are acting in this direction and the results in terms of people’s trust and respect for mining are showing, as we periodically verify when we collect public opinions. By establishing advances in this more positive perception of mining by people and authorities, we gain access to better conditions to promote the expansion of our activities. We have challenges to overcome in this regard. It is urgent to expand mineral research, since only about four percent of the territory is properly mapped.
Additionally, the country needs to create public policies that support the development of mining, such as minerals considered strategic to enable Brazil and other nations to meet the goals of the major global agendas, primarily those related to climate risks. We will only have a low-carbon economy if we can ensure a diversified and growing supply of minerals.