Ancient agricultural traditions and modern mining ambitions are on a collision course in the Portuguese mountain village of Covas do Barroso, where plans for an opencast lithium mine have sparked fears and resistance among the native populace. The global transition to green energy has increased the demand for lithium, a critical component used for electric car batteries. Portugal, blessed with abundant lithium reserves, stands as a potential key player in meeting this spike in demand. However, the villagers argue that satisfying Europe’s hunger for lithium should not come at the cost of their centuries-old ways of life.
Overlooking the verdant valley that is slated to house four opencast pits, Aida Fernandes, a farmer of generations, voices her concerns. “It would destroy everything,” she utters, her gaze fixed on the landscape marked for lithium extraction. Even the prospect of a financial offer to lease the land by international mining company Savannah Resources, doesn’t sway Aida, the president of the common land association, known as the Baldios. This abundant pastoral and forestry land, jointly owned by the community, forms the backbone of traditional cattle-rearing, feeding and housing her bovine herd.
The Barroso Lithium Project promises an output of lithium sufficient for half a million electric car batteries annually over a 14-year lifespan. However, the proposed excavation site—the common land—holds the major share of the mineral deposit. If the villagers remain resolute in their refusal to lease the shared land, their resistance may eventually face governmental overruling and expropriation.
The village is united in its opposition, continually rejecting compensation deals and royalties. Local farmer Maria Loureiro articulates the shared sentiment: “We’re not for sale, we don’t want to sell. If I sold my land, what would I do?” In addition to swaying the local populace, the mining project’s fate hangs in the legal balance too. Mayor Fernando Queiroga, of the municipality including Covas do Barroso, is mounting a legal challenge against the conditional approval of the project. Legal battles have been waged by the local parish council and the common land association as well, all efforts converging on a single goal – to block the mining project.
Despite the fervent opposition and multiple legal challenges, Savannah Resources, represented by interim CEO Dale Ferguson, remains undeterred. Reassuring the community of their consideration for local concerns and adaptability in response, Ferguson acknowledges the project’s tangible impacts but underscores its importance for Europe’s green revolution.
Portugal’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate, Ana Fontoura Gouveia, espouses the project too and emphasises the benefits it could bring in terms of employment generation and funding through royalties. She perceives the legal resistance as a democratic process, expressing hope that mining in Europe could set a precedent for 21st-century mining practices, benefiting local communities and maintaining high standards.
The ongoing tussle between ancient traditions and new-age needs in a small Portuguese village could set the course for Europe’s green vision. Nonetheless, other European nations eyeball the developments closely, aware of the growing imperative for new mines to sustain the future of green transport and energy.