A report by a nonprofit documented an alleged seven deaths and 41 assaults on artisanal miners at the Williamson mine in Tanzania.
T.I.A., Part 3: East Africa’s Changing Gemstone Market
As Tanzania and Kenya move to have the export of all rough banned, both will need to focus on growing their cutting industries. Associate Editor Brecken Branstrator talks to a few people who are playing a part in that.
I’m glad to finally be getting around to this blog post, because much of what it will address stems from the very conversation Roger Dery and I were having when he first invited me to travel with him to Africa.
After I asked a question about the future of the iolite market for August’s Rocks On, we started discussing the movement toward “value addition” among mining ministries in East Africa, which can hardly be separated from a discussion about the future of certain gemstones sourced in the area.
This is only one part of the change and development that many are trying to bring to the gemstone market in East Africa, but since it also played a part in our trip, I want to focus on this for now.
It’ll be interesting to see if both Tanzania and Kenya are able to meet the deadlines they’ve set for themselves.
Tanzania already has a law in place that no tanzanite rough larger than 1 gram (5 carats) can be exported from the country, so the country’s infrastructure is more equipped to handle such a change over a period of a few years--Tanzania has roughly 600 gem cutters, as well as a number of lapidary schools already established.
We visited one of these while we were there--the Arusha Gemmological & Jewelry Vocational Training Centre. It’s a small, independent vocational school run by Peter Salla, who was once a full-time trainer for TanzaniteOne. The school has graduated more than 800 students since its founding in 2000, nearly a third of which are women. While many of them pay tuition, Peter also looks for scholarship candidates, many times finding students who have come from very humble and difficult beginnings and wouldn’t have had the opportunity for such learning otherwise.
The center has two rooms, one of which is used as a classroom to teach students about grading and evaluating gems, and the other is set up for hands-on faceting work. When we went into the school, a handful of
It’s clear that Peter works very hard to bring this skilled training to his students and is doing the kind of work that is needed if East Africa’s gemstone trade is going to grow and develop.
Kenya’s a little further behind its neighbor in establishing its cutting sector.
Roger told me that he estimates the country has somewhere in the range of 50 to 75 cutters. There also aren’t any lapidary schools operating yet, though the Kenyan government said last summer that it was investing some 30 million shillings (about $293,000) to set up a gemstone cutting center in Voi meant to create employment as well as adding value to the country’s stones.
While I was in East Africa, I also learned about a project that gemstone dealer and broker Gichuchu Okeno and Roger are establishing, along with jewelry blogger Monica Stephenson of iDazzle--a private lapidary center in Kenya designed to help provide training for the people there.
It tentatively will be called the Voi Lapidary Centre, but that could change if they decide to add more skills than just gem cutting, Roger told me. Rather than being designed to be a profit center, the school will be meant to help train young people, who, after graduation, will be encouraged to either seek employment by firms or to take in their own work from various mining operations.
The skilled training that it, and places like Peter Salla’s school, offer will be necessary for East Africa’s gem trade to develop, and I’m happy to have met a few of the players who will have a hand in that.
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