The Brazilian state of Mato Grosso has 23% of its territory coveted by mining

The area corresponds to twice the size of Portugal and 20 times the size of São Paulo

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Londrina (Paraná state) |
A recently released survey considers requests registered with Brazil’s Mining Agency, also known as ANM - Divulgação/Opan

In the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, 23.8% of its total area is coveted by the mining sector, corresponding to twice the size of Portugal and 20 times the size of the city of São Paulo. Among those interested are transnational companies, miners’ cooperatives and even relatives of local politicians.

Between 2018 and 2024, the state recorded a 57.6% rise in the total number of mining requests, which are official demands made to the Brazilian state through the National Mining Agency (ANM, in Portuguese) to get a permit to research and explore minerals.

During the period abovementioned, the total number of this kind of request jumped from 7,526 to 11,859 recorded at the beginning of 2024, a 57.6% rise. These figures do not include illegal mining activities.

The collection of data and their analysis was made by the Bulletin on Monitoring Pressures and Threats to Indigenous Lands in the Juruena River Basin, produced by Operation Native Amazon (Opan, in Portuguese) with info from the ANM.

The minerals at the top of the list of requests are gold (52%), copper (23%), and at the third position, diamond, manganese and lead (3% each).

What explains these numbers?

Ricardo Carvalho, from Opan, points to several causes for this rise of over 50% in interest in mining in Mato Grosso, including the stance of its governor, Mauro Mendes (Union Brazil).

"There is a very clear position from the Mato Grosso government to exploit the state's 'mineral potential'," says Carvalho. This incentive is related to the increase in revenue through the Financial Contribution for Mineral Exploration (CFEM, in Portuguese).

In addition, Carvalho points out that the Mato Grosso Mining Company (Metamat, in Portuguese), which belongs to the State Secretariat for Economic Development (Sedec, in Portuguese), has speeded up the analysis of Mining Applications (RLG, in Portuguese) and made environmental licensing measures more flexible.

Those interested in mining in Mato Grosso range from large mining companies to miners’ cooperatives. "Among the big companies, Anglo American Niquel Brasil, a subsidiary of the multinational Anglo American, and Nexa Recursos Minerais S.A., of the Votorantim group, stand out," says Carvalho.

"There are also mining requests in the name of individuals, including family members of local politicians, and the majority of RLGs are requested by miners’ cooperatives," added the Opan member.

Strategies to circumvent legal limits

According to Opan, a significant part of the mining processes uses strategies to circumvent legislation and expand mining areas - often beyond the limits established by the National Mining Agency.

"Regarding these strategies, there are two distinct situations that we have observed: the big mining companies use information on studies of the potential for mineral deposits in certain regions to be the first to present mining requests for many areas that occupy large portions of land," explains Carvalho.

Miners ’cooperatives, on the other hand, often submit contiguous requests for Garimpeiro Mining Applications (RLGs), each with areas smaller than 10,000 hectares, but which, in practice, form a single large area to be exploited.

"This strategy by the cooperatives allows them to circumvent the restrictions of the National Mining Agency and obtain permits for mining in large areas," said the Opan member.

Mining attracts organized crime

In the Juruena River basin, which runs through Mato Grosso and flows into the Tapajós River, contamination of water streams and fishing resources has been reported to Opan by the region's traditional populations.

In addition, Opan has identified soil contamination, deforestation, the destruction of historically and culturally important sites and an increase in violence due to the involvement of organized crime in mining activities.

"There is a widespread feeling of dread among communities' residents about the involvement of organized crime [criminal gangs] in mining activities," said Carvalho.

Indigenous populations and traditional communities have great concern about these impacts, especially due to the lack of prior and informed consultation on mining projects.

"Environmental licenses are already starting to be granted for activities on riverbeds, which has caused great concern among social movements and Indigenous populations who have not even undergone free, prior and informed consultation about these projects," concluded the Opan researcher.

Edited by: Rodrigo Chagas