Strange Bedfellows or Logical Partners? Collaboration Between the Agriculture and Mining Sectors to ‘Build Forward Better’

Ruth Thomas, Director, Global Agribusiness Alliance, and Dr Nicky Black, Director, Social and Economic Development Programme, International Council on Mining and Metals

Following the panel discussion on Cross-Sector Collaboration at Business Fights Poverty Online 2020, the Global Agribusiness Alliance at WBCSD and the International Council on Mining and Metals share some reflections.

The COVID-19 pandemic has held a mirror up to us all, exposing inequalities and vulnerabilities throughout society. With this in mind, last week’s panel discussion focused on the critical importance of cross-sector collaboration in order to build forward better towards a greener, more equal, and more resilient future post-COVID-19.

Not least, this pandemic is shining a spotlight on the weaknesses of our global food and land-use systems. Disrupted food value chains have exacerbated challenges faced by vulnerable rural communities, many of which are reliant both at the macro- and micro-level on agriculture. The United Nations’ 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report estimates an additional 130 million people will be subject to chronic hunger by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19, doubling rates of global food insecurity. We are not on track to meet Sustainable Development Goals 1 (No Poverty) or 2 (Zero Hunger) by 2030.

We are also seeing that many of the countries least prepared to respond to COVID-19 are those that are ‘resource-dependent.’ These countries are home to almost 30% of the global population and have 230 million people living in extreme poverty. The impact of COVID-19 on these people’s lives is catastrophic, with health services crippled by mounting cases and unable to provide treatment to those most in need. We are only just beginning to see the economic knock-on effects of the virus. Many local communities are struggling to get the basic supplies needed for everyday life, and the lasting impact of disruption to livelihoods and education is yet to be tallied.

The agriculture and mining sectors are uniquely positioned within the rural communities in which they operate to respond; in many cases they have had a long-term presence in rural areas and have established constructive, trusting relationships with host communities and other local stakeholders. These factors mean that the agriculture and mining sectors are well placed to provide immediate support and drive the sustainable development that is necessary to recover from COVID-19 and build resilience in the decades to come.

The contribution that both sectors make to socio-economic development is clear: agriculture contributes 30% of the GDP in many low-income countries and employs over 2 billion people globally. In addition, around 75% of people living in poverty depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.[1] The mining sector represents more than 50% of national exports in 16 developing and emerging countries and our research has shown that members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) spend approximately $1bn a year on social projects.[2] Both industries are critical for the provision of jobs and security for local communities. They both also help support livelihoods by providing vital goods and services including healthcare, infrastructure including energy and roads, and educational facilities in some of the world’s most remote and isolated areas.

With such beneficial capacity, and given these sectors’ overlapping footprints and contributions to local communities, we must ask ourselves how can we collaborate more closely to drive the change needed?

Cross-sector collaboration between agribusiness and mining is not a new notion. Mining companies have invested in small-scale farming for decades, both as a part of community development and poverty alleviation programs to help workers sustain their livelihoods beyond the life-of-mine, and also as post-closure insurance.

ICMM members have achieved a lot in this area and one significant example discussed during the panel was the Somos Choapa initiative which is supported by ICMM member Antofagasta. This programme is based on a private-public partnership between the municipalities of Salamanca, Illapel, Canela, and Los Vilos together with Antofagasta’s Minera Los Pelambres in Chile, to contribute to the sustainable development of the region and the wellbeing of its inhabitants. This includes skills training, development of rural water systems, and encouragement of rural productivity amongst many other programmes.

While these projects provide a strong foundation, this collaborative approach must now translate into action at scale. We need to find ways to build on isolated positive examples with a greater degree of urgency. We need to build bolder, bigger, better types of collaboration. Questions must still be addressed: What are the missed opportunities to mitigate business risks and also generate positive social outcomes? What are the barriers, and who wants to work collectively to identify, understand, and then break them down?

The Global Agribusiness Alliance (GAA) has made some progress with trailblazing partners to begin answering these important questions. In 2018, GAA moderated a panel at the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining where leading thinkers and practitioners from Newmont and Olam discussed the value of post-mined land; the scope to re-purpose closed mine sites for agriculture; and the potential for aligning community development and social investment models for greater shared benefit. GAA published a brief in the same year, that sets out the business case for cross-sector action; presents case studies; and proposes high-level criteria to identify opportunities for collaboration including the potential to scale, development impact, and commercial sustainability.

ICMM is currently collaborating with Business Fights Poverty and The Partnering Initiative to develop a framework to support the actions of members of the mining and metals industry in helping communities recover and rebuild. While the framework is focused on the mining industry it is a tool that we hope other sectors will also find useful. It is expected the framework will lay the pathway for building forward, looking both to the shorter-term of recovery post-COVID-19 and to the longer-term of local economic and community resilience. It will draw on the experiences and responses of the mining industry and other sectors to set out a pathway of action across the areas of lives, livelihoods and learning. Likewise, as part of its broader Covid-19 response program, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development WBCSD (host of the GAA) has developed a set of high-level Principles for a Strong Response to Covid-19: Food Systems Security, to guide effective responsible and sustainable business action

What the discussion has shown is that only through pooling resources and relationships, as well as aligning priorities and approaches, will these key actors in local communities recognize and act on their transformational impact.

For those who missed the session, a replay can be found here.



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