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2 December 2015
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Newsletter n° 48 (English translation)

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR MALAGASY LOCAL COMMUNITIES AFFECTED BY THE EXPLORATION OF RARE EARTHS BY THE MINING COMPANY TANTALUS?

A 300 square kilometer concession has been allocated by the Malagasy State in the North West of Madagascar to Tantalus, a mining company headquartered in Germany, for the extraction of rare earths on the Ampasindava peninsula, located in the Diana and Sofia regions. The mining company is known in the Ambanja district under the name of its local subsidiary, Tantalum Rare Earth Malagasy (TREM). Rare earths are among the ores and materials used to create advanced technology. Those who study the distribution and production rates of rare earths worry that we may soon experience a shortage of these critical compounds. Therefore, the extraction at this rare earths deposit should be managed with extreme care and attention, so that the Malagasy population can take advantage of this resource in a way that encompasses a fair distribution of benefits to all Malagasy people and particularly to the local communities.

The villages affected by the Tantalus Company activities are located in the Ambanja and Analalava districts, and more specifically, in the rural municipalities of Antsirabe, Ankingameloka, Bemanevika-Ouest, Ambaliha, Anorontsangana and Ankaramibe. Tantalus has conducted research both on land and in the sea (1). Information from these villages about TREM is very worrisome and raises many questions regarding compliance with current legislation, protection of the environment and preservation of marine ecosystems, and above all the rights and future of local communities.

The negative impacts for local communities during the exploration phase

The concession and the research license were given to the Tantalus Company by the Malagasy officials in power in 2008.

Since 2011, the TREM Company has used manual labor to dig holes measuring 1 meter squared and 10 m deep everywhere, notably in the agricultural fields on which the livelihoods of local communities depend. Some farmers were not even consulted before the holes were dug in their fields, while others were paid by the company to do the digging. The company should have refilled the holes but did not do it for several years. This caused a loss of livestock as they fell into the holes, particularly during the rainy season. Moreover, these widespread and numerous holes, numbering 250 to 720 for each fokontany, prevented many farmers from adequately using their lands. One of the local farmers associations, and member group of the Association for the Development of Agriculture and Peasantry in Sambirano area (ADAPS) and of the SOA network (Network of the Unions of Rural Organisations), wrote to local authorities in September 2014 to request assistance in securing rights to their lands face to damages on their fields. When no response came from authorities, members of the civil society went to the affected area to discover at the facts, collect testimonies and discuss the situation with local communities.

Are the activities of the mining company in compliance with Malagasy laws?

The civil society team saw that all holes were filled, most of them very recently, but not replanted. In several cases, the distance between holes and houses or sacred sites did not comply with article 105 of the Mining Code which requires a distance of at least 80 m between research related work and “houses, wells and sources, burial sites and places considered as sacred or taboo” (2).

Tantalus’ promotional documents on their mining activities in Madagascar emphasise the existence of several chemical substances: do they all appear in the research licenses held by the company? The license granted in 2009 only mentions the chemical “pyrochlore” (3). The assessment of environmental impacts which will be submitted by TREM should be overseen by independent experts and not only conducted by the National Office of the Environment whose technical resources are limited, especially since it concerns the extraction process of rare earths elements and metals which is known to present severe and numerous dangers.

The extraction license granted by the transition regime in 2012 appears to be so questionable (4) that articles about TANTALUS in international media assume the company is still waiting for an extraction permit.

The team which came to visit the exploration site in October 2015 found out that local communities directly affected by the rare earths exploration operations were not informed by the mining company or by the authorities about the nature and use of rare earths, as well as the impact of their extraction on the environment and human health. Yet, both the Constitution and the Malagasy Charter for the Environment affirm the right to information of all citizens (5).

Citizens registered in each fokontany, who pay taxes regularly, and whom one sees in large numbers at the markets in Antsirabe and Befitina, are living in the areas affected by the mining research and exploration. Thus, these lands are not “vacant and ownerless”.

The TREM company plans to construct a rare earths sorting and processing plant in Betaimboay. It is high time for those who are responsible for its creation to prioritise adequate information of the impacted communities.

The issues facing local communities are critical

In response to concerns raised by local communities, the civil society team carried out discussions about the rights of the community members on their lands as granted under the law. They also informed the communities about rare earths and their strategic value for manufacturing advanced technology. Additionally, the communities were informed of the very serious consequences of the use of various chemical products in the extraction and treatment of rare earths oxides and the production of toxic waste.

It was under these same circumstances that the United States of America and Australia stopped extracting this ore on their own ground for years. When Australia succeeded in establishing a rare earths treatment plant in Malaysia, the population took to the streets and demanded that the Government of Malaysia stop the project. China is the main rare earths producing country but has begun to slow down domestic extraction and now gets rare earths from outside the country, particularly in Mongolia, in order to safeguard the rich mineral wealth in Chinese soil (already very much exploited), and also to stop disastrous environmental damages which one can see clearly depicted in a video on line (6).

The primary forest (7) and the protected area of the Ampasindava peninsula (8) managed by the Missouri Botanical Garden are at risk of destruction. Water for human consumption, for breeding and agriculture, and even groundwater and the sea are subject to pollution threats. The potential dangers to human health are significant.

Local communities expressed scepticism as to whether or not the mining company in question will give the necessary attention to avoid and reduce environmental impacts. When rehabilitating the road leading to the company’s base camp, Tantalus did not even practice the standard precautions against erosion. As a result, all the land that was excavated to create the road was washed directly into the sea.

Cocoa, which is currently the main source of revenues for farmers in the Ambanja district, is the subject of a fair trade partnership with a French organisation (9) and three co-operatives set up to be involved in this partnership are among the communities directly affected by mining operations. In addition to rice cultivation and production of other cash crops such as vanilla, coffee and pepper, actions have been taken to support horticulture in the Sambirano area for years. The local communities also practice fishing and animal husbandry as secondary activities. Efforts in rural development were starting to bear fruit but are at risk of being wrecked by pollution and by the tens of thousands of holes that should be drilled during the next phase of the mining project.

Let us challenge Malagasy leaders and decision makers

The future of inhabitants and ecosystems in the Ampasindava peninsula is in danger of a calculated death. This call goes out to all citizens, and especially to decision makers at various levels who still can stop further development. Are we to condemn the Malagasy people to suffer environmental and human dangers refused by other countries in the world?

Do we accept to sacrifice the exceptional environment of the area and the admirable agriculture of local Malagasy communities of the Sambirano area, in order to satisfy the economic and financial interests of others?

High State officials are aware of what is going on. The President’s Chief of Staff and special advisors visited the site in May 2015 (10). But did they care about the negative consequences of this project for the population?

Let us support local communities who reject the construction of the rare earth treatment plant!

Let us demand total transparency from officials on all aspects of this mining project!

Let us require a public debate, including all Malagasy citizens and affected local communities, about the benefits and risks of this project before any decision about an extraction agreement is made!

November 9, 2015

Association MA.ZO.TO, Miaro Aina-ZOn’olombelona-TOntolo iainana (Defending life, human rights and environment),
Centre de Recherches et d’Appui aux Alternatives de Développement - Océan Indien (CRAAD-OI) (Research and Support Center for Development Alternatives – Indian Ocean)
Collectif pour la Défense des Terres Malgaches – TANY (Collective for the defense of Malagasy land)

patrimoine.malgache@yahoo.fr
http://www.facebook.com/TANYterresm...

PS:

1/Further to the civil society actions on the ground, the company TREM organized activities to inform local people about the mining project, particularly during a workshop on the 11th of November.
2/ On October 16 2015, “Tantalus Rare Earths AG announces that the Management has decided to file an application for insolvency proceedings at the Munich Local Court”. - http://investorintel.com/technology.... On November 17 2015, “Tantalus announces that it has commenced a process to sell in the first stage 60% and in the second stage the remaining 40% of its Madagascar based rare earths project to a Singapore-based company (Buyer)” – http://investorintel.com/technology...

References :

(1) Minerals – Rare earths : an exploitation in the Diana region
http://latribune.cyber-diego.com/ec...
Ambanja – Encouraging prospecting of rare earths
http://www.lexpressmada.com/blog/ac...

(2) section 105 of the 99-022 law of August 19, 1999, about Mining Code modified by the law n°2005 – 021 of October 17, 2005

(3) PR n°6698, ref 59/09/MEF/ONE/DG/PE according to GIZ and all., Analysis of the extractive industries sector in Madagascar 01/10/2012

(4) Violation of human rights in Madagascar
http://www.cetim.ch/legacy/fr/inter...

(5) “The 2010 Malagasy Constitution guarantees the right for any person to be informed (section 11) and acknowledges the Fokonolona (local community) as the basis of development and cohesion in the areas of society, culture and environment (section 152)
According to the Malagasy Environment Charter (Law n°90-033 of December 21, 1990 modified by laws n° 97-012 of June 06,1997 and n°2004-015 of August 19,2004)
Section 2 – Environment includes all natural and artificial environment, human environment and social and cultural factors which impact national development.
Section 4 – Protection and respect of environment are of general interest. It is everyone’s duty to watch the protection of the environment in which he/she lives. For that purpose, any individual or legal entity should have the right to be informed of decisions which could have an influence on the environment, directly or via groups or associations. Anyone should also have the opportunity to participate in the decisions.
“Madagascar adopted the Rio Declaration in 1992 which expresses in its principle 10 :”The best way to deal with environmental issues is to ensure the participation of all concerned citizens, at an adequate level. At the national level, each individual should duly have access to information relating to environment, which are held by public authorities, including information relating to dangerous substances and activities in their communities, and have the possibility to participate in the processes of decision making. States must facilitate and encourage sensitisation and participation of citizens by making information accessible.(…)
Madagascar also ratified the Aarhus Convention determining how access to information and public participation is to be provided.”
Extracted from GIZ and all. Analysis of the sector of extractive industries in Madagascar 01/10/2012

(6) The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust : http://www.bbc.com/future/story/201... (see the video at the end of the article)
(7) http://www.cci.mg/index.php?p=journ...
(8) http://www.mrpa.mg/sites/default/fi...
(9) http://www.ethiquable.coop/page-dac...
(10) http://www.lagazette-dgi.com/index....

English translation performed on 27 November 2015