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25 may 2015

olam_mustapha_xx.jpgTanzania’s Tanga Small Scale Miners Association said it is not happy with the manner in which gemstone dealers in the East African country are profiteering from their hardwork.

The association chairperson Olam Mustapha told Rough & Polished’s Mathew Nyaungwa on the sidelines of the Arusha Gem Fair in Tanzania last month that the dealers were buying stones for as low as $10 per gram and then obtain $100 per gram or even $200 per gram when the same stones are sold abroad.

He said the small scale miners had since started looking at possibilities of exporting the stones on their own, therefore cutting out the middle-men.

Mustapha indicated that the miners recently received an offer from a buyer in Hong Kong to supply 1000 kg of red garnet every month.

He said his association was now waiting for the approval of an export licence by Dar es Salaam before they start supplying the gemstones.

Mustapha also highlighted the challenges facing the small-scale miners and what needed to be done to improve their operations.

Below are excerpts of the interview.

Can you shed some light on what you do as Tanga Small Scale Miners?

These are small scale miners and people who have Primary Mining License (PML) and the government issues that license to local citizens in order for them to grow [economically]. We came together as a group so the government could see that we were serious. Each and every miner has his/her mining claim and as a co-operative we have a mining site that we mine together. One mining site can be enough for 1000 people if you work hard.  The government has seen our seriousness.

You told me before our interview that your association comprises of 14 miners and I want to establish if these miners are also operating independently at the moment despite the mine that you own collectively?

As I said, every miner has his/her mining site, so they do mine independently as well, but at the same time we are operating a site that we own collectively and here we are mining red garnet.
What is your production capacity per month and where is your mine?

We can produce up to 3 tonnes of red garnet and we operate in the Umba area in Tanga.

Talk me through the challenges that you are facing as small-scale gemstone miners.

The challenges that we have is lack of equipment for work. In order to mine efficiently there are five things that are needed.

Which are?

You need an excavator and a good one costs $70 000 - $100 000. You also need good compressors as well as explosives and that’s where the problem is. All these other things you get them once. You come and give us an excavator, it’s just once. You give us four compressors, it’s just once, but it’s not the case with explosives. We need explosives everyday and in a month we spend about $30 000 on explosives. Without it you cannot continue mining. We sometimes need a good generator, 150kv on the site.  Above all we need food [although not an equipment]. These are our challenges, not that we don’t try our best, but our best is not enough.

In terms of safety, what measure are you putting in place to ensure a safe working environment for your employees?

That is our first priority, even for the government. You cannot have a mine and start to operate without them [government] coming to investigate. The issue starts with the digging of a hole, you should do it in such way that you create [rungs] for the miners and you watch for any loopholes of danger and remove them. We don’t just look at the precious stones but we also look for potential danger. We also have first aid kits on site and in some places we have nurses. We are planning to build our own health facilities. We cannot afford even small injuries.

Where do you sell your gemstones?

We sell our gemstones to dealers here, because we haven’t made it that much to export stones on our own. There are big dealers here and they are richer than us.   They buy stones from us for $10 per gram and go outside the country where they sell the same stones for $100 to $200 per gram.

What are you doing to rectify this anomaly?

We are now looking for international markets; we got some buyers in Japan, China and Hong Kong. There is a buyer from Hong Kong who wants a supply of at least 1000 kg of red garnet per month.

So you are telling me that you now want to skip the middle men?

The middle-men are killers of the small-scale miners.  Yes, we want to sideline them.
Have you started supplying the red garnet to your Hong Kong buyer?

We haven’t started yet, we signed a deal recently. We might not be in a position to satisfy the demand, but we will get additional red garnet from other small scale miners. In fact we will buy the gemstones from them and sell at a profit to our buyer.

Have you obtained export licenses already?

We spoke to our commissioner (on the first day of the fair) about the issue and that is something they are going to give us. Before we were not educated, we thought it was only the dealers who can buy and export the gemstones. We did not know that if you have your PML, it covers everything and what you need is just an export licence, which is a small thing, if I may to call it. So we are going to educate other miners.

Does any of your miners mine diamonds?

No we do not have diamonds in Tanga. Gemstones mined in Tanga include Tourmaline, alexandrite, ruby, red and green garnet, etc. Diamonds are found in the Nyanga area. We also don’t have tanzanite, its only here in Arusha.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished