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sharing in governance of extractive industries

Where's the Market for Artisanal and Small Scale GEMSTONE Miners ?

While artisanally mined Gold is getting fairly good airplay,  we rarely hear of the gemstone miners and the challenges they undergo or the opportunities that exist within the sector.

One of the struggles of Artisanal and Small Scale Gemstone miner is access to Market. This isn't a call for Fairtrade certification,  more of asking how can we open up the supply chain to better benefit the gemstone miners ?

Here's a story on BBC of my good friend Gichuchu Okeno who is mining Tsavorite Garnet in Kasigau, Taita Taveta in Kenya.

Gichuchu has also been recently profiled in the film Sharing the Rough (Click the picture to watch the trailer.)

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The rewards of doing business off the beaten track

  • 23 April 2015 / From the sectionBusiness

It is a long and uncomfortable drive to get to Gichuchu Okeno's mine from the nearest town

Before Gichuchu Okeno spends the night at his remote gemstone mine, he always asks one of his men to check his bedroom for scorpions and snakes.

The deadly creatures are a daily concern for the 48-year-old, much more so than the wild elephants and buffalo that roam his property in the middle of the Kenyan bush.

And more of a worry than the risk of a lion wandering in from the nearby Tsavo East National Park, which isn't fenced off.

This is an isolated and harsh spot in southern Kenya. The nearest town - Voi - is a three-hour drive away along packed dirt tracks strewn with rocks and potholes.

It can be blazing hot, and you have to truck in everything you need - water, food, fuel and electricity generators. Your mobile phone will definitely not get a signal.

Gichuchu Okeno says that he and his workers could do with more heavy machinery

But what Mr Okeno's land does have, under its red soil, is a gemstone called tsavorite garnet.

A brilliant green colour similar to emerald, it is much in demand on the global jewellery market, particularly in Asia.

The houses at the mine often come with added snakes and scorpions

And while tsavorites may not be as expensive as emeralds, their wholesale price is still about $1,200 per gram (£800). So for Mr Okeno, it can be a lucrative business when times are good.

However, doing business "off the beaten track" inevitably comes with complications and difficulties, wherever you are on the globe.

We spoke to Mr Okeno and two very different, but equally remotely-based, small firms in other parts of the world about the challenges they have to endure while running their successful businesses.

Promotion work

Mr Okeno's mine is little more than a big hole in the ground, where he and his six employees toil with one jackhammer and some shovels and axes. He admits that it is a laborious process.

Tsavorites are popular with jewellers around the world

"What we lack is an excavator (digger)," says Mr Okeno, who has built two simple, small buildings with corrugated iron roofs to house him and his workers when they are on site.

"I know we are on the right track, but without the right equipment everything takes so much longer."

Yet getting the tsavorites out of the ground is not Mr Okeno's biggest challenge, instead it is selling them for a good price.

Gichuchu Okeno uses Facebook to promote his gemstones around the world

"There is no way we can get high prices locally," he says, complaining that dealers from China and Thailand base themselves in Kenya to buy up the local supply and sell it for twice as much in Asia.

Mr Okeno, who set up the mine a few years ago, after previously working as a safari tour operator, instead tries to sell his stones directly to overseas buys.

To promote himself, and find new customers, he maintains a Facebook page, which he updates when he visits his office in the town of Voi.

Yet exporting the stones is an expensive and time consuming business, as Mr Okeno has to first spend more than seven hours driving them to the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

He then has to take the stones to the Kenyan Ministry of Mines, where he has to fill out paperwork. The ministry then only gives him the stones back at the airport, where he can finally hand them over to a courier company for sending abroad.

Including his petrol and export taxes, he says the whole process can cost $200.

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