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Covas do Barroso: Local resistance against the push for lithium mining in Portugal

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In the tranquil Portuguese village of Covas do Barroso, Nelson Gomes begins his day at dawn, tending to his cows and tending his vegetable garden. However, his mornings also involve standing guard against the ambitions of London-based mining giant Savannah Resources, determined to drill on contested land.

Savannah Resources seeks to extract lithium from the region’s rich subsoil, driven by the soaring demand for lithium in electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. Despite fierce opposition from villagers that spans over a decade, the Portuguese government supports the mining operations.

The Cannes Film Festival premiered “Savannah and the Mountain,” a film by Paulo Carneiro depicting the community’s struggle against the proposed lithium mines. The narrative blends reality with fiction, portraying a community united against a foreign mining company in what feels like a Wild West showdown.

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European leaders envision transforming this forgotten agricultural region into Europe’s largest lithium mining hub, facing resilient resistance from locals. Savannah Resources has faced bureaucratic hurdles and political upheavals since 2018 in its bid to open the mine, further exacerbated by a corruption scandal.

The film underscores the profound environmental and cultural impacts of the proposed mining project. Residents of Covas do Barroso have organized tirelessly to block the project, anticipating the establishment of Europe’s largest open-pit lithium mine. Tensions are palpable among villagers, with some selling their lands to Savannah Resources in hopes of economic benefits, while others fiercely oppose the project.

Despite financial challenges from the State Institute of Cinema, the film received support from the Boticas municipality and the Uruguayan Film and Audiovisual Agency.

As Europe and the U.S. intensify efforts to secure domestic sources of lithium to meet clean energy targets, Savannah’s project in Covas do Barroso stands at the crossroads of economic opportunity and environmental stewardship, profoundly dividing the local community.

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