A salient feature of the recommendations presented by the Commission for Sustainable Mining Development was the emphasis these placed on ‘territory’ in policy making. Indeed, the commission choose ‘Social environment: citizenship, diversity and territory’ as the first of five key topics around which it organised its overall recommendations. It asserted that the main reason for the failure to close social gaps and provide quality services and opportunities for all in mining territories is “the absence of explicit territorial policies”.

The commission recommended implementation of a pilot project in which, by means of a new instrument entitled a Territorial, Sustainable, Integrated Development Plan (PDTSI), mining would contribute to sustainable development, economic diversification, resilience to climate change, and improved the “governance in the use of the territory”. It suggested that the Vice-ministry of Territorial Governance should assume this leadership role.

Such emphasis on territory is not new. It expresses a growing trend as it has become evident that the traditional urban/rural dichotomy and sector-based approaches have failed to cohere to realities and assist in designing public policy conducive to inclusive and sustainable development.

But adopting such an approach is easier said than done. It poses tremendous challenges for policy making because the entire state is organised on the basis of political-administrative units (regions, provinces, districts) and of sectors (as expressed by different national ministries). However, in reality, people organise their lives along very different axes: watersheds, economic corridors, ethnic and cultural spaces, and other historically constructed spaces.

How can the system of government take as a foundation the existence of territories that do not correspond to the way in which the state works at present?

One response has been the grouping of existing administrative units in mancomunidades, composed of districts, provinces or regions that share basic interests. In fact, the commission was originally established in response to the demand by the Mancomunidad Regional Macro Región Sur for changes in the Mining Law in the context of the conflict around the Tía María mining project in Arequipa.

Other such units have come about in the form of ad hoc mechanisms such as the Consejos Hídricos de Cuencas to manage water, or the designation of a former minister as the Alta Comisionada para el Diálogo y Desarrollo en el Corredor Vial Sur.

Introducing a truly territorial approach to extractive sector governance would question the existing decision making arrangements by which the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) concentrate power and decision making, subordinating others such as the Ministry of the Environment (Minam) and the Ministry of Culture (Mincul). The present system allows for no direct decision making by sub-national tiers of government or the people living in affected territories.

Alternatives to this centralist, sectoral and vertical method of decision making would strengthen other ministries, involve sub-national governments more directly and move towards more participatory mechanisms with binding agreements, paying special attention to the views of women, indigenous peoples, and the poor. It would involve a multi-sector, multi-level and multi-actor approach to decision making for all things impacting on a given territory.

A bottom-up alternative (and rather unique) approach to territorial governance has been pioneered by the Wampis and their Gobierno Territorial Autónomo de la Nación Wampis in the northern Amazon area. And they are not alone as indigenous responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Peruvian Amazon make clear (see article below on the Wampis and Achuar). Their response has been to close access to and assume control over their territories, strengthening their own capacity to manage these autonomously.