The lithium development project was set up in the province of Salta, Argentina, at an altitude of more than 3,800 meters. The Centenario-Ratones "salar" (salt desert), where Eramine launched the project, is located in the heart of a vast desert region, the “Puna Salteña”. Several kilometers from the project site, some families mainly live off an extensive, nomadic farm, and occupy dwellings that are isolated from one another. Fifty kilometers to the north, the two hundred inhabitants of the village of Santa Rosa de Pastos Grandes represent the closest community.
From the beginning of the exploration phase, Eramine has made social responsibility the foundation of its strategy. One of the project’s priorities is to establish a relationship with the local communities that's based on trust in order to build a project together where all local players will benefit.
Creating a dialog at the core of the project
In keeping with the regular meetings organized from the beginning of the exploration operations in 2011, quarterly meetings are held to inform the local populations of the project’s progress, as well as to understand – and respond to – any concerns they may have. Furthermore, several members of the CSR team are continually present on the ground to handle development projects, therefore ensuring ongoing interaction between neighboring communities and the company.
Eramine’s transparency with regard to evaluating and mitigating the project’s impact, namely on the environment, plays a vital role in establishing a relationship based on trust with the local communities. Within the framework of national regulation, and in partnership with UCASAL (Catholic University of Salta), Eramine has set up a training program on “environmental monitoring” for local representatives. Appointed by the communities themselves, these representatives are trained in, and contribute to, the project’s sampling activities - for example, those aiming to monitor water quality. They additionally play a role in relaying information to the other members of their communities.
A project where all local players benefit
Employment: with 65% of the team being from the province of Salta (and 18% coming from nearby dwellings and villages), Eramine promotes local employment. In anticipation of the construction phase, a clause relating to CSR and local employment was added to the collective agreement signed in 2019 with the Argentinean construction union. This was a first for Argentina. As such, Eramine, in collaboration with local stakeholders, identified candidates from the province of Salta who were interested in job opportunities during the construction phase. Moreover, in 2019, 35 people received training in safety and the basic skills that will be needed over the next few years.
Subcontracting: Eramine is equally committed to supporting the local economy through training programs, development programs and the use of local subcontractors. There are opportunities namely in catering, hospitality, the laundry industry, transport and earthworks. The aim is to maximize local employment indirectly linked to the project.
Other initiatives: Besides initiatives designed to ensure that the industrial operations have a beneficial impact, Eramine is actively engaged in development efforts for local players. In 2015, Eramine launched the Quinoa project – a program to reintroduce the ancestral quinoa crop to the region, with the main goal to create alternative revenue sources for the local community. In terms of health, and in order to tackle widespread challenges in the region, such as child malnutrition, several projects have been launched to help the local populations improve their diet. Thanks to the Community Organic Garden and the Quinoa projects, these communities now have access to basic foodstuffs, enabling them to enrich and balance their diet.
The Quinoa project
The Quinoa project is an ambitious initiative that has revived farming of this traditional grain in a region where this ancestral know-how had died out. There are numerous advantages to cultivating quinoa, from creating job opportunities – especially for women – to developing the local economy, not to mention decreasing child malnutrition. Several pilot plots have been developed since the project was launched. After the first successful pilots, around 30 participants in the project received training in soil preparation, and raising, cleaning, processing, packaging and selling this grain. Eramine has also helped to build a storage facility for quinoa yields, while producers have joined forces as part of the “Quewar” cooperative. From the outset, the farmers have been engaged in organic farming, and Quewar quinoa has recently received organic certification from a third-party organization – a first for Argentinean quinoa! Between 2018 and 2019, Quewar quinoa production has increased by more than a metric ton! This figure is expected to double by 2022.
February 2020: suspension of the Lithium project
Since the conditions for the launch were not met, and with the sanitary crisis, the Group revised its investment strategy. The Eramet board of directors decided not to engage in the construction of its lithium production plant. The pilot plant is continuing its activity in order to collect the results of the process. This deposit remains a good asset with strong potential for the Group in the years to come. All arrangements will be made, especially for local communities and suppliers, in order to allow for a monitoring and a restart in the best conditions when it will be possible.