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Training in diamond valuation is key for artisanal miners

02 december 2019

ian_rowe_xx.pngIan Rowe, the Executive Director of the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) was appointed in September 2019, having joined DDI as Deputy Executive Director a year earlier.

Ian managed field operations in Sierra Leone within this role and led an extensive strategic planning process to position DDI for a future in which artisanal mining is expected to become a much more prominent development challenge. As a result, DDI is now poised to consolidate many of the important lessons it has learned, into larger cross-cutting programs with positive outcomes for the artisanal mining sector.

Ian brings with him two decades of experience in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean working with governments, civil society organizations and United Nations organs within areas inclusive of inter alia: development, socio-economic recovery, armed violence reduction and conflict prevention.

He has held senior UN management positions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti, worked in a variety of staff and consulting positions in Kenya, Somalia, Burundi and Bolivia, and in 2008 served on a UN Panel of Experts on Sudan, investigating violations of the arms embargo on Darfur. Immediately prior to joining DDI, he served as Director of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, reintegration and Resettlement Division within the UN Stabilisation Mission in Congo (MONUSCO). Based out of Goma he held responsibility for managing 14 regional offices in support of the government-led disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.

Ian holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton University in French and Spanish and a Master's degree in international conflict analysis from the University of Kent.

Here, in an exclusive interview with Rough&Polished, Ian Rowe shares his insights on artisanal mining and also specifies the impact of DDI’s initiatives on the artisanal sector.

Some excerpts:

As the Executive Director of DDI, which aspect of DDI’s programs or initiatives is uppermost in your mind to give a kick-start immediately?

“Immediately” is a concept that isn’t available in the artisanal diamond sector, but an important starting point in every country where diamonds are mined by hand is the issue of legality.

In many countries, artisanal miners operate as part of the “informal” economy, without licenses and without title to the areas they mine. Bringing them into the formal sector isn’t just about the licenses, however, which to a certain degree is about administrative or procedural alignment with the laws and policies enacted by the government.

While it’s important to bring order into artisanal and small scale diamond (ASDM) mining, it’s also essential that these artisanal miners be recognized as citizens, mostly very poor citizens, (bearing in mind few make more than $2 a day and many make a lot less) who are creating livelihoods for themselves and who are worthy of the government support to which they are entitled. A change in mindset, therefore, is a precursor to larger success: stepping out of a mentality that perceives ASDM miners as criminals and instead of treating what they do as an opportunity and genuine contribution to poverty reduction.

Which diamond mining issue/s do you think have to be prioritized to look into? And try to find some solution/s if possible.

If you mean diamond mining writ large, one of the biggest current issues is the challenge of synthetics. For artisanal miners, any general reduction in diamond prices caused by the onset of synthetics will hit them along with their families and communities the hardest, and yet synthetics manufacturers like to advertise that their goods are more ethical than natural diamonds ironically at times using the plight of the artisanal miner to do so. Hitting artisanal miners as a way to advance the sale of synthetics doesn’t seem even remotely ethical.

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 Image credit: Diamond Development Initiative 

How does DDI intend to help artisanal miners on the whole? Are there regulations for traditional diamond mining currently; and how do you think a free and open market for artisanal miners can be created?

Regulations are only part of the answer. Mining standards that emphasize safety, fair wages and prices, human rights, for example, no child labour, environmental remediation.

The Maendeleo Diamond Standards created and pioneered by DDI are already working well in Sierra Leone and we are now piloting them in the Congo. These benefit miners of course, but they assure buyers of ethical and responsible production and place these diamonds on a level playing field with those produced by industrial methods.

What measures should be taken to ensure that the diamonds from artisanal miners are sold at fair prices? How can this be regularized; and what is DDI contribution in this endeavour?

The first step is for miners to understand the value of what they are producing; many do not, so training in diamond valuation is key. Second, is to give miners a choice in their access to the market. Many deal with a limited number of supporters who in turn are also the only buyers in town.

Additionally, public demand to know the origin of the diamonds they buy is on the rise, as is the desire that they are ethically sourced and transparently traceable throughout the length of the value and supply chains.

DDI is working with ASTM communities, industry (inclusive of national and international buyers) and governments precisely in hopes of broadening the scope of possibility for artisanal and ASD miners as a whole.

DDI’s pilot initiative in Sierra Leone that sees the Maendeleo Development Standards implemented in partnership with GemFair, a De Beers initiative, is one example of the potential success that may be achieved in this respect.

In what way does DDI help in promoting diamonds mined by traditional methods? Does DDI run Ad Campaigns? How does DDI generate funds to foot the bill for Ad Campaigns or any promotional activities initiated by DDI?

DDI is an NGO so we have to be strategic in the application of our funding. We don’t advertise in the traditional sense of the word, but we do spend a lot of time and effort promoting our ideas, our standards and the opportunities these present to governments and the industry at large.

We write articles, speak at trade shows and we are an active participant in Kimberley Process meetings and working groups. And of course, we’re pleased when news services like Rough & Polished asks about our work.

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 Image credit: Diamond Development Initiative 

Has DDI assessed the market share of artisanally mined diamonds in Africa in particular, and the world in general? Your comments.

By volume, about 20% of the world’s rough diamonds are mined artisanally. By value, the share is a bit less than 5%. This may not sound like much, but as the long struggle to end conflict diamonds shows, they have great potential for disruption.

A more important indicator of their importance, however, is the fact that they are a primary source of income to an estimated 1.5 million diggers in fifteen countries. And, of course, they represent a sizeable chunk of the export earnings of these countries as well.

Currently, which countries are covered by the DDI programs? How successful is the implementation of supplying "development diamonds" to the market?

DDI is currently working the Mano River Union countries of West Africa (primarily Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia), and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We have carried out feasibility studies elsewhere and are looking at potential projects in other countries of Africa and potentially Latin America in the future.

We are still in the early stages of a complex process, so the supply of Maendeleo-certified diamonds is still limited as the framework for their production continues to evolve, but the potential is high as support builds behind our efforts. And so are our ambitions.

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough & Polished