The Southern region of Kenya is blessed with mineral resources especially gemstones including tsavorites, rhodolites, rubies tourmalines. It lays along the Mozambique belt, one of the most important gemstone geology regions in the world.
Taita Taveta County is also a paradise. It is well endowed with the big five wildlife in Tsavo West and East National parks which are dissected by the Nairobi – Mombasa highway. At the heart of the county is Voi town, also dubbed ‘Tsavorite town’ due to the active trade of the famous gemstone.
About 72 Kilometers from Voi, deep in the rugged arid terrains of Mt. Kasigau is a host of a number of mines located in Kasigau Ranch. Gemstone mining is an important way of earning a decent living and an alternative to perennial mixed farming.
Herman Mole, the secretary of the Kasigau Youth Miners, an association that is representing over 500 independent miners in Kasigau, sat down with Open Institute, an NGO in Kenya, to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the gemstone mining sector.
Mr. Herman highlighted that the gem miners use old school mining techniques by using manual tools such as; shovel, hammer, and chisel with a determination of getting gemstone that will lift them out of poverty. Women miners are also working at ths pits.
Lack of better tools and apparatus has made it a slow and tedious operation. It is also risky as some of the operations such as unplanned blasting weakens the walls of the underground pits. Last month, one of the pit’s walls of the disputed mine caved in on three miners who succumbed to death and left four others in critical conditions.
The Secretary added that they have limited knowledge in the geology which limits their output.
Mr. Herman Mole also explained that miners earn very little of the days or weeks production due to exploitation from brokers who exploit them by purchasing the gems at meager prices and in turn exports them to make huge profits. He added that what they – miners – earn cannot sustain their day to day mining operations.
To achieve sustainability and better ways of addressing poverty reduction he suggested that:
- The County and National governments assist them acquire modern machinery.
- Facilitate them by teaching miners on modern mining methods.
- Transfer of skills in various aspects in mining.
- Assist them in finding better markets for their gemstones.