De Beers’ GemFair ropes in more than 160 Sierra Leone artisanal miners

Mathew Nyaungwa

De Beers inaugurated its GemFair pilot programme in Sierra Leone’s Kono District with 14-member mine sites in 2018 to create a secure route to market for ethically sourced artisanal and small-scale diamonds.

GemFair programme manager Ruby Stocklin-Weinberg told Rough&Polished’s Mathew Nyaungwa in an exclusive interview that the registered members working with De Beers in the district have now grown to 160.

She said through their miner training programme, they had trained a total of 1,049 individuals on fair labour standards and safer and environmentally responsible working practices.

De Beers said they only purchase diamonds from artisanal and small-scale mined sources that are extracted, processed and transported responsibly and legitimately.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

Can you shed more light on your operations as GemFair?

GemFair is a pilot programme operating in Sierra Leone. GemFair started operations in 2018 in the Kono District, Sierra Leone with 14 registered mine sites… While Covid-19 impacted our ability to onboard new members in 2020, we are now actively recruiting again and look forward to continuing to further expand GemFair’s membership and impact in helping formalise the ASM sector and improve the livelihoods of those working in the sector.

In 2020 we were also pleased to enter into an MoU with the Mano River Union (MRU) and German Development Corporation (GIZ) to expand our ASM training programme and tailor it to government and civil society trainers, delivering a unique ‘training-of-trainers’ programme for stakeholders in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and the Ivory Coast. This collaboration will also enable us to build regional capacity on diamond fundamentals and valuation.

To what extent was the GemFair programme affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Covid-19 had a significant impact on GemFair’s operations in 2020, profoundly impacting the operating environment in Sierra Leone, as well as the global diamond market. In addition, border closures and travel restrictions meant GemFair’s rough diamond purchasing was suspended for a period. Despite these challenges, GemFair continued to engage with the ASM sector in Kono to identify ways in which GemFair could actively support the community during the pandemic. While GemFair’s operational focus in 2020 shifted to one of community support, we also developed a new ‘on-demand’ training programme, drawing on our existing GemFair digital platform and the tablets provided to our members, tailored for a low-bandwidth environment. As a result, we can now reach hundreds of people living in remote communities that are hard to reach through more traditional, classroom-based training methods. The team also used the time to focus on refining the programme and preparing for other activities, such as the provision of technical support including providing miners with access to a mechanized wash plant.

What is De Beers doing to assist the participating Artisanal and small-scale diamond miners in the face of the pandemic?

Since the outset of the pandemic, GemFair prioritised support for its members and this became the programme’s core operational focus throughout most of 2020. While Sierra Leone has so far largely been spared the rates of Covid-19 infections experienced in many other parts of the world, the global interruption in supply chains of everything from food to diamonds had a significant economic impact on artisanal mining communities. In early 2020, GemFair conducted an assessment of miners needs in the context of the pandemic, which identified that food security was a very real concern for miners and their communities due to border closures and a poor harvest season. GemFair responded by developing a programme to deliver food parcels to its member mine sites, which continued for 10 months. In total, GemFair delivered 4,700 food parcels to 1,715 individuals (and their independents).

In addition to delivering food parcels, we also made a large donation of PPE to the local hospital to help protect front-line workers, which included thousands of medical masks and other personal protective equipment. We also established five portable handwashing stations. Finally, we assisted with public health education about the pandemic by donating radio airtime for health officials to hold live Q&A sessions on Covid-19 with remote communities, as well as repurposing the GemFair digital solution to send out Covid-19 health guidance from the World Health Organisation to our members.

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Source Rough&Polished