Country focus – Colombia
AIMING TO DEVELOP BEST PRACTICE
AngloGold Ashanti actively started exploration in Colombia in 2002. To date in excess of $255m has been invested in various greenfield exploration projects in the country, resulting in two major discoveries, at La Colosa in the Tolima province and Gramalote in the Antioquia province. Both projects are now at the stage of advanced economic evaluation.
We recognise that there are opportunities for further discoveries in adjoining regions. These are being advanced using modern, non-invasive exploration techniques such as the company applied in exploration at La Colosa and Gramalote, in combination with proactive community engagement strategies.
In Colombia, AngloGold Ashanti is operating in an environment where large-scale open cast mining has not yet been developed in the gold sector. Debate is ongoing on the extent and nature of the country’s participation in the sector. Opposition to mining activity, particularly in the Tolima province which hosts the La Colosa deposit, has centred on the perception that large-scale mining activity will have a detrimental impact on the region’s river systems. It is based on the claim that the project will use a significant amount of water and will contaminate river systems, impacting on the main input for large-scale agriculture, which in the Tolima area is mostly rice production.
In addressing these concerns, there are other related issues that influence the quality and availability of water in the Tolima region, including:
- The low level of development of infrastructure, including sewage systems and water conveyance systems such as aqueducts;
- Environmental damage caused to areas adjacent to rivers; and
- The expansion of agriculture, which has resulted in environmental impacts including the deforestation of watersheds and the pollution of rivers. Some 87% of current water consumption in the region is for agricultural purposes.
These issues occur independently of large-scale mining activity, but nonetheless influence water quality and availability and are therefore relevant to the debate. Any systemic approach has to consider these issues, as well as the management of impacts relating to mining activity itself.
Given these sensitivities, AngloGold Ashanti has taken a transparent approach to the discussion of water issues, holding seminars, distributing written information on the issue, and seeking out open dialogue with opposition groups. The following principles have been adopted in the company’s environmental management approach in Colombia:
- Avoiding impacts on areas that are sensitive, valuable or important;
- Reducing impacts where they cannot be avoided;
- Rehabilitation of any affected areas;
- Offsetting residual impacts with compensation; and
- Supporting volunteer projects to improve regional environmental protection.
These principles were established with reference to our values and our environment and community policy and following consultation with various NGOs, including Conservation International (CI) and the Fund for Environmental Action and Childhood (FAAN) both of which are based in Colombia. They also reflect statements made by the authorities as well as our recognition that in the area of environment, we needed to make a visible commitment to a series of principles from the exploration and implementation phases of the project beyond pure legal requirements.
The Coello River Basin Fund
Given this starting point and acknowledging the context in which the debate takes place, the company developed an initiative which has the potential to provide tangible environmental benefits to the region, demonstrating in practice the company’s commitment to the goal of environmental protection.
AngloGold Ashanti Colombia approached FAAN and reached an agreement with them on a co-operative venture to create an independently-managed fund to sponsor grants supporting projects to enhance regional environmental protection in the Coello River Basin in the Department of Tolima.
A memorandum of understanding was signed in December 2009 to create the Coello River Basin Fund, a vehicle for financing projects that will help create a shared vision of sustainable development in the Coello basin. The Fund was given full autonomy to select projects submitted by the local community and aimed at protecting the watershed and the water source.
Its selection criteria target projects that:
- seek to solve problems at a regional level, based on best practice and reference cases that have been developed in Colombia or elsewhere;
- are administered by technically competent community based organisations (CBOs) or NGOs;
- meet developmental as well as environmental goals; and
- provide examples of best practice which can be replicated in other regions as well as in the Coello basin.
In the first half of 2011, a call for applications among NGOs and CBOs was developed in conjunction with local CBOs and NGOs, local leadership structures, independent contractors, unions, universities, irrigation schemes, as well as media and public institutions in the region and 10 initiatives were selected for funding. Significant achievements to date from this initiative are regarded as:
- Participatory design and the implementation of a new way of allocating resources;
- Integration of environmental and development goals;
- Restoring confidence and trust in the company’s relationships with NGOs and CBOs; and
- A strategic investment focus on the quality and efficiency of water use in the context of adaptation to climate change.
Support of $482,000 has been given to these projects to date – due to the success of the initiative, funding was increased from the $250,000 originally budgeted. Our overall commitment to funding this initiative has been carried forward in a new agreement with FAAN, which will continue in the role of the Coello River Basin fund administrator, with funding of up to $880,000 for new projects.
A further call for project applications will be made every two years. In addition to addressing pressing community priorities through the implementation of these projects, we will work with the project organisers to ensure that the organisations concerned use these examples of good practice to support other communities with common needs.
“ Agricultural wastewater used to go straight to the Anaime River, which flows into the Coello River. As a result of the project, waste is processed and used on the farm, the organic materials don’t flow into the Coello River basin and so we are reducing contamination.”Camilo Ernesto Arevalo Parra, a beneficiary of a project to reduce the biological load in waste water, from the ‘El Placer’ Farm in a rural area of the Cajamarca Municipality