Julia Torreblanca, Vice President of Corporate Affairs of Cerro Verde, points out that in view of the difficult situation caused by COVID-19, Cerro Verde continues to strengthen the health sector in Arequipa and is carrying out various activities to provide better care for the people affected.
Why do you consider it important to promote mining in the regions, as is being done by Heading to PERUMIN?
We believe that it is important to disseminate the fact that responsible mining has direct benefits for Peru’s economic growth and the improvement of the population’s quality of life. We also think that it is necessary to clarify some myths about extractive activity, explaining, for example, that mining can coexist with agriculture and contribute to its development, as has been done in Arequipa with integrated water resource management.
In this regard, we believe that it is also necessary to highlight the figures included in a recent study prepared by the Center for Competitiveness and Development (CCD) and the Peruvian Institute of Mining Engineers (IIMP), which indicates that 52 % of the population in the southern mining regions benefit from the development of this activity, through the generation of employment; this information enables different key audiences to see the real contribution that mining offers in this difficult situation of health and economic recovery.
In Arequipa, for example, 56% of mining suppliers are micro-companies, 35% are small and medium-sized companies and the remaining 10% are large companies, which shows the multiplier effect that mining activity generates at all levels.
What challenges does Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde face for the development of its activities and operations?
In the current situation, the health issue continues to be our main challenge, especially if we take into account the recent announcement by the national authorities regarding the appearance of cases related to a new variant in Arequipa.
Initially, after the measures adopted by the Government to contain COVID-19, we had to take drastic but necessary measures in order to comply with government regulations. For this reason, we had to stop our production and focus on critical activities aimed at maintaining the facilities and ensuring safety, health and environmental conditions.
After the start of the economic recovery, the company quickly adapted to the new health needs, and we developed our “Plan for the surveillance, prevention and control of COVID-19”, approved by the national authorities. This included adapting our facilities, implementing safety measures in the transport of personnel, applying the safe taking of rapid tests, monitoring the health of our workers and families, working remotely, hoilding virtual meetings, as well as making operational adjustments and reviewing our relationship plans, among others.
This effort has allowed us, after paralyzing our production, to gradually increase it to the levels approved in our permits, especially at a time when the international price of copper has reached a high price, which will allow us to generate more resources for the Peruvian State in a difficult economic and social situation.
Another challenge that we must face is how to contribute so that the resources left by mining can be better used for health, education and other fundamental aspects for the development of the population. In this sense, we consider that proposals such as works for taxes, canon for taxes or royalties for taxes, for example, would be a good alternative. Although Cerro Verde has not yet carried out works for taxes, we believe that we are ready to contribute with technical knowledge and help local governments to be able to meet the required expenditures.
Analysts have highlighted the need to close infrastructure and social gaps in order to reduce conflict. In what way is Cerro Verde contributing to this process?
In the case of Arequipa, one of the most important infrastructure gaps is related to the water issue, because this region has a dry climate and rugged geography, which presented water supply problems that affected various productive activities.
Given this situation, Cerro Verde developed a strategy focused on increasing water storage capacity; providing drinking water to the population; capturing and treating the drainage of Metropolitan Arequipa, decontaminating the Chili River; and having water for its operations, without affecting other activities. These objectives were part of the concept called the " Virtuous Water Circle", designed by our company and with the active participation of the authorities and civil society.
Among the main works carried out by Cerro Verde, we can highlight the co-financing for the construction of the Bamputañe, Pillones and San José de Uzuña dams in order to increase the capacity for collecting and storing water; the construction of the Drinking Water Treatment System (La Tomilla II) that included pipelines to serve 750,000 Arequipa residents; as well as the construction and operation of the La Enlozada Wastewater Treatment System, which required an investment of more than 1.5 billion soles.
In this way, Cerro Verde's strategy to address water demand has allowed Arequipa to be the only city in Peru to have a river with more than 96% of its waters completely treated, which is used to improve agricultural production. livestock and promote tourism in the area of influence. Likewise, the water storage capacity in Arequipa’s dams has increased from 200 million cubic meters per year to 400 million cubic meters, benefiting agricultural activity.
In the case of the Chili River, the environmental quality of the surroundings has been improved, in addition to eliminating bad odors caused by wastewater. Even today, a recovery of its natural life can be seen, with the resurgence of catfish, trout and tadpoles in its waters. Meanwhile, its flow has increased from about 5 cubic meters per second (in times of drought) to a permanent average of 12 cubic meters per second.
An additional benefit, fundamental for improving the health of the population of Arequipa, has been the reduction of gastrointestinal diseases, especially in children and the elderly, since agricultural products for human consumption are today irrigated with clean water from the Chili River. Likewise, there has been a decrease in the high rates of skin and eye diseases that previously occurred due to direct contact with contaminated water.
Thus, the " Virtuous Water Circle" has become a success story in Peruvian mining and Cerro Verde has received visits from various institutions to learn about its implementation and has received various accolades, including an international award from the Secretary of State of the United States.
What environmental and social programs are you currently developing in your areas of operations?
Cerro Verde has an Environmental Management system certified with the ISO 14001:2015 standard, and recertified in January of this year. With this system, the main environmental aspects and impacts that occur in the operating areas are identified and the necessary controls are established for their management.
Likewise, Cerro Verde has prepared a Biodiversity Management Plan that contains the measures carried out to mitigate its impacts on flora and fauna, and which has received the following certifications: Wildlife at Work (2011), Corporate Lands for Learning (2012) and Wildlife Habitat Council since 2017, recertified in 2020.
Some of the programs that are part of this Management Plan have received national and international recognition, among which we can highlight the Bat Conservation Program, which has received the following awards: Bat Conservation Action Award in 2014, Kumir Kawsay from the OEFA in 2015 and WHC Bats Award in the years 2017 and 2021. Similarly, the Plant Conservation Program has received the WHC Desert Project Award in 2017. Finally, the Guanaco Conservation Program has received the WHC Mammals Award in 2017 and the WHC Species of Concern in 2021.
Regarding the social aspect, Cerro Verde implemented a strategy aimed at alleviating the difficult health situation in Arequipa, promoting the development of 3 fundamental axes: the provision of facilities and medical equipment for the health sector, help to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, and the execution of actions to reactivate the economy and assist the affected families.
One of the first challenges that arose after the initial impact of COVID-19 was the lack of medicinal oxygen, so the company acquired and installed an oxygen plant for the Honorio Delgado Hospital, with a nominal production capacity of 720 M3 per day.
Likewise, Cerro Verde together with other companies associated with the National Society of Mining, Oil and Energy (SNMPE), decided to donate a thousand tons of medicinal oxygen to the country's hospitals, at an initial rate of 40 tons per week, which is expected to be increased gradually over a period of three months.
Additionally, the company delivered 390 oxygen cylinders, regulating valves and accessories to different health institutions in Arequipa, at the same time donating portable oxygen concentrators to health establishments.
Another challenge that arose due to the impact of COVID-19 was the lack of rapid tests to diagnose the disease, so Cerro Verde implemented the Arequipa Regional Laboratory to increase molecular testing. It also contributed to the purchase of half a million diagnostic kits for the entire country, through a joint effort with the SNMPE.
Furthermore, in order to strengthen biosecurity measures that guarantee the safety of health professionals, Cerro Verde delivered more than 100,000 safety items (masks, gloves, goggles, protective coveralls, face shields and others) to different institutions in Arequipa. We also financed the transport of health personnel to hospitals and healthcare centers in Arequipa for 6 months.
Another of the most important milestones in Cerro Verde’s contribution to the fight against COVID-19 was its participation, through the association Soluciones Empresariales contra la Pobreza (SEP), in the co-financing of the logistics expenses of the first shipment of vaccines purchased by the Peruvian government. This support from the private sector allowed the transfer of the first million vaccines from the city of Beijing (China) to the National Center for the Supply of Strategic Health Resources - CENARES, in Callao, in what was the historic beginning of the vaccination process.
Likewise, at the beginning of the vaccination stage in Arequipa, Cerro Verde contributed materials such as awnings, signage, chairs, cloth masks and water bottles at the vaccination points for the elderly, thus preventing them from having to stand for long hours.
Regarding economic reactivation, Peru was one of the countries most affected in economic terms by the pandemic, which caused key sectors for its development to suffer a sharp contraction in their activities, such as agriculture.
Along these lines, Cerro Verde drew up an agricultural reactivation plan for Arequipa, which included assistance and technical support to 1,340 farmers in order to ensure the agricultural season, for which 2,901 kilos of seeds were delivered, as well as 34 pieces of equipment such as seeders and threshers.
The focus of the plan developed later led to the detection of another point that needed urgent attention: the exhibition and sale of agricultural products. Cerro Verde organized a series of traveling fairs, in which 130,500 visitors were able to make their purchases, complying with all health protocols.
Another key point in Cerro Verde's social responsibility strategy was the donation of food, in order to help the private sector to comply with the regulations of the authorities and guarantee food security of families. For this reason, the company donated 2,000 food baskets for the neediest people. In addition, it implemented COVID-19 protocols to 15 soup kitchens and donated 5,200 non-perishable items and 20,900 kilos of fresh products. Similarly, it implemented 39 kitchens in soup kitchens in Arequipa and provided them with food, cleaning products and personal protective equipment.
What are Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde's plans for the second half of this year?
In this year 2021, we continue to face a difficult health situation, so our main objective for the coming months is to consolidate our production at the level it was before the start of the pandemic and later, in a second phase, to achieve significant increases in production efficiency, without losing sight of sustainability, in order to supply responsibly produced copper.
Likewise, we will focus on continuing to strengthen the health protocols of our workers, on preventing the characteristics of the new Covid-19 variant that appeared in Arequipa, and on accelerating the digital transformation of operations, seeking to be more efficient in the technical processes that we carry out.
We will also focus on continuing to promote a culture of high performance among our employees, adopting a range of behaviors that allow us, for example, to obtain better results in our work; innovating as a team, sharing knowledge and adopting the necessary changes.
What technological trends are you applying in your mining activities?
In the last year, we have implemented a series of initiatives that have allowed us to streamline a number of internal processes, thus helping us to achieve the objectives set, despite the difficult situation caused by the pandemic.
These initiatives arise as part of a culture of innovation promoted by Cerro Verde in its operations, through constant training and the promotion of competitions, using methodologies such as Design Thinking, Design Sprint or the use of robotic tools and Lego Serious Play.
In this way, workers stimulate their creativity and then inspire new solutions in their daily work or in challenges posed by their own areas, which give rise to projects that participate in the Cerro Verde Innovation Award (Innova), an initiative promoted annually by the company and now in its tenth year of existence.
In the last decade, up to 1,515 ideas have been registered within the framework of this program, of which 231 innovations have already been implemented, while work continues on the execution of the remaining ones.
Likewise, this culture of innovation has allowed Indecopi to patent 9 ideas designed and implemented by the company, in addition to receiving multiple recognitions from the mining sector.