• InfoAmazonia’s Amazônia Minada project has found an unusual rise in demand to mine for manganese last year in Brazil, one of the world’s top producers of the metal.
  • Previously, only 1% of mining bids on Indigenous lands were for manganese; in 2020, it was with 15% of all requests, second only to gold.
  • Some of the richest manganese deposits in the world are in southeast Pará state, overlapping with the territories of the Kayapó Indigenous people, which have been targeted the most by mining applications in general.
  • Demand from Asia, particularly China, has increased the price of manganese, driving illegal mining; 300,000 tons of the ore were seized last year in Brazil, including from a company bidding to mine on Indigenous land.

Demand for manganese in China is having a huge impact on the other side of the world: for the Indigenous Kayapó people in the Brazilian Amazon. The metal is essential for the manufacturing of steel used in new public infrastructure works in China., and the high demand has pushed its price up on the international commodities market. In Brazil, one of the world’s biggest producers of manganese, that’s led to a surge in illegal mining — in particular in the Kayapó Indigenous Territory in Pará state.

“The Federal Police have been seizing trucks with manganese almost weekly at inspection points in the interior of Pará,” the National Mining Agency (ANM) said in February through its press office.

According to the ANM, the illegal manganese comes from southeastern Pará. In this region, on the outskirts of the Carajás mining complex, the Kayapó people live atop of some of the richest mineral deposits in the world.

The Amazônia Minada project, which monitors formal applications to mine on Indigenous lands — a practice banned under Brazil’s Constitution — has detected an unusual rise in requests to mine for manganese. The metal typically accounts for just over 1% of such requests, but last year made up 15% of the total. Most of the applications targeted the Kayapó territory.

 

Though the applications filed with the ANM merely signal interest, they can also open the way for illegal extraction. In the Kayapó territory, the Indigenous population is already contending with miners seeking the mineral. “We see the traces of people who have been digging there,” said a Kayapó individual who asked not to be identified. A 2019 report by Funai, the federal agency for Indigenous affairs, has denounced the problem.

 

Illegal mining of manganese isn’t a recent phenomenon, the ANM said, “but it has been intensifying.” The agency also confirmed that a recently interdicted shipment of illegal manganese was destined for the Asian market. “The upsurge seen in 2020 reflects the international demand for steel, iron, alloys and batteries, the currency devaluation, as well as the expectation of impunity due to insufficient personnel for field inspections. All this worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the ANM said.

Widely seen as stoking this problem are the environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro, as Mongabay previously reported.