By Michelle Graff
Ottawa, Ontario—De Beers and the Diamond Development Initiative have launched a program where the mining company will, if all goes according to plan, sell rough diamonds from artisanal and small-scale mining sites in Sierra Leone.

The Diamond Development Initiative, or DDI, is the Ottawa, Ontario-based non-governmental organization led by Dorothée Gizenga that has spent the past decade working to formalize the artisanal mining sector of diamonds in various parts of Africa in order to improve livelihoods and working conditions for the people mining diamonds there.

Called GemFair, the DDI-De Beers program is open only to miners who are certified as having met the DDI’s Maendeleo Diamond Standards—which include protecting the health and safety of miners, respecting human rights, excluding child labor and employing practices that are environmentally sustainable—as well as additional GemFair standards, and are working at approved mining sites.

Once certified, De Beers will supply the miners with a tablet loaded with a software application that incorporates GPS locations and QR-coded “bag and tag” equipment. De Beers created the software so it works both online and off, and the hardware has been designed for use in “tough rural conditions;” it can, for example, be charged using solar energy.

In addition, miners will be trained on diamond classification so they understand the value of what they are selling.

The pre-pilot phase of GemFair launched last month and involved setting up a local presence in Sierra Leone, and working with DDI and registered mining sites to ensure standards are being met, that miners are trained on how to use the technology and that they understand diamond classification.

Once everything is place, GemFair will begin buying rough diamonds from participating miners (miners, however, are not under any obligation to sell their stones) and selling those stones via De Beers’ auction sales platform.

The goal is for rough to be available at a De Beers auction later this year.

DDI Executive Director Gizenga said the organization believes GemFair has the potential to “significantly transform” the artisanal mining sector by providing a secure route to market via a leading diamond company.

Located in West Africa, Sierra Leone was embroiled in a brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002 that was funded in large part by the sale of conflict or “blood” diamonds; 1990s Sierra Leone, in fact, was the setting for the 2006 movie “Blood Diamond.”

Today, the DDI said the government of Sierra Leone has made “significant advancements” in formalizing artisanal mining.

There are a number of artisanal mining sites in the country participating in the DDI’s Maendeleo Diamond Standards program. Last year, one of the country’s artisanal mining sites produced a 709-carat stone dubbed the “Peace Diamond,” which was sold via a much-publicized auction to Graff Diamonds for $6.5 million. The profits reportedly are to be divvied up to help the people of Sierra Leone.

De Beers said if the GemFair program works, the technology developed for it will be integrated with the blockchain platform it’s developing, allowing the artisanal mining sector to become a part of blockchain.

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