By: Victor Hugo Pachas, Andean Region Manager (Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador)
Little is known about the dynamics of small-scale copper mining in Peru. State agencies fail to pay due attention to this activity as artisanal production of this mineral remains unrecorded, even though published reports and testimonies from miners provide evidence of these processes. Copper mining is apparently no longer an activity restricted exclusively to large companies since small-scale mining is increasingly becoming more visible.
However, some questions arise from this situation: What are the inequalities resulting from small-scale and artisanal copper mining in the country? Will the new national formalization policy for small-scale and artisanal copper mining improve the socioeconomic conditions of small-scale and artisanal copper miners? Will the beliefs and idiosyncrasies of small-scale and artisanal copper miners influence the exploitation of copper ore? What are the similarities and differences between small-scale copper miners and gold miners? What is the role of women in the value chain of this activity?
Official Peruvian Government Information
Peru holds the second-largest copper production in the world. According to the Mining Annual Report 2021 (MINEM:2022), the global production of this mineral grew by 4.7% compared to a year-on-year increase of 6.9% at the national level (producing 2.3 million metric tons in 2021). China is the main export destination for Peruvian minerals, accounting for 47.6%, copper included. As for production by regions, Ancash is the first copper producer with 464,909 tons in 2021, followed by Arequipa with 422,575 tons and Apurimac with 290,106 tons, among others.
The general regime (large-scale mining) is the largest copper producer in the country, followed by small-scale and artisanal miners. Regarding the latter, it is worth mentioning that MINEM has not registered any production of this ore since 2012. According to MINEM’s production report for that year, a total of 89 companies were registered, of which 71 were in the general regime, 15 were in small-scale mining and 3 were in artisanal mining. It is unclear why no copper production from the artisanal mining sector has been registered since 2013. As for informal copper production, the official national data is rather unclear as the Comprehensive Mining Formalization Registry (REINFO for its acronym in Spanish) fails to provide information on the type of ore extracted by miners undergoing formalization. This gap leaves two possible scenarios for speculation: i) informal copper mining is invisible to the state administration or ii) the impact (social, environmental, economic) is so minimal compared to gold mining. The data provided by MINEM so far indicate nothing more than these two possibilities.
A report issued by the Peruvian Institute of Mining Engineers (2022) pointed out the increase in informal copper mining in the Apurimac region. There, it was reported that in May 2022 Southern Peru’s Los Chancas mining camp located approximately 65 kilometers southwest of Abancay city in the Apurimac region, Aymaraes province and Tapairihua and Pocohuanca districts burned down to ashes after a fire that was allegedly started by informal miners, who were already extracting copper in the area and are against the construction of the new mine. This conflict was also recorded by the Ombudsman’s Office in the Report on Social Conflicts for June 2022.
In addition, the CooperAcción NGO (2022) reported that a variety of current social conflicts are related to the expansion of informal mining into new regions of the country, where new minerals are being exploited. The NGO also stated that informal mining is no longer exclusive to gold producers as it has become a source of tension and dispute with formal mining companies now. It was also pointed out that increased interest has been observed in small-scale and informal copper mining due to the current international copper prices. According to CooperAcción (2022), a major difference with informal gold mining is that copper extraction is made in areas licensed by formal mining companies, including large transnational companies with which conflicts may arise.
Copper Mining in the Eyes of Miners
According to miners in southern Peru, mined copper is mainly sold raw as it is more profitable for small-scale and artisanal miners, given that a quantity of at least 100 tons is required to make it into concentrate, apart from paying rent for the use of the plant. For this reason, miners prefer to sell it raw to the actual concentrator plants. Miners are paid about $120.00 per ton of raw material and they also have to pay for ore transportation, which varies depending on the distance from their mining sites.
Recommendations from the Alliance for Responsible Mining
Copper ASM is an important issue that needs to be addressed from an energy transition approach. The Alliance for Responsible Mining has already reviewed this issue, for which the following recommendations are made:
- The Peruvian government needs to separate the approach to formalization, monitoring and supervision of small-scale gold mining from small-scale copper mining.
- The Peruvian government needs to assess small-scale copper mining to identify the relationships among the stakeholders involved in the copper mining sector.
- Analyzing small-scale copper mining is a process that requires a coordinated effort between miners, the Peruvian government and the private sector engaged in the copper value chain.
MINEM (2022). Anuario Minero 2021. https://cdn.www.gob.pe/uploads/document/file/3282284/AM2021.pdf.pdf
Instituto de Ingenieros de Minas del Perú. (2022). Perú: minería informal de cobre viene creciendo en regiones como Apurímac. https://iimp.org.pe/institucional/actualidad-minera/peru-mineria-informal-de-cobre-viene-creciendo-en-regiones-como-apurimac
CooperAcción. (2022). La minería informal e ilegal de hoy en día. https://cooperaccion.org.pe/la-mineria-informal-e-ilegal-de-hoy-en-dia/
Defensoría del Pueblo. (2022). Reporte de Conflictos Sociales N.° 220. https://www.defensoria.gob.pe/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Reporte-Mensual-de-Conflictos-Sociales-N%C2%B0-220-Junio-2022.pdf