Zambia centre of emerald in Africa

Precious stone emerald found in ZambiaZambia has now become Africa’s top emerald centre surpassing countries such as Zimbabwe, Congo DR, Mauritius and Mozambique in that order. The country derives more than 15 per cent of its export earnings from the coveted green stone per annum.

Emerald is Zambia’s biggest gem export in value terms while another mineral, amethyst is the biggest export by volume sending more than 700 tonnes to the global market.

Other gemstones are aquamarine, garnet and tourmaline which are also in abundance in various corners of the country. Zambia has since surpassed Zimbabwe’s once famous Sandawana emeralds which are now depleted. Years of conflict in the Congo DR has made emerald production sporadic and this leaves Zambia which has assumed the top position as the continent’s top gem production centre.

But despite all this, the Zambian emerald industry is still not fully exploited due to various reasons among them, poor marketing of the sector as well as, security. As a result, the sector has been unable to attract meaningful investments both local and foreign.Failure by the industry to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) despite the abundance of the different kinds of gems is a matter of great concern and should be addressed forthwith if the sector is to grow and increase its contribution to the development of the national economy.

edelsteen mijnwerkers in ZambiaThe appeal by the Emeralds and Semi- precious Stone Miners Association of Zambia (ESMAZ) president Dale Litana for more investments though well timed needs to be accompanied by the tackling of the various outstanding issues that seem to be preventing potential investors. The most outstanding issue of poor road and communication infrastructure which has not been addressed by various stakeholders since the emerald area was opened to investors after the liberalisation of the economy more than 20 years ago. Millions of dollars are being realised from the gem fields every year but not even a dollar is ploughed back in terms of infrastructure development save for one or two investors who have tried to help out in temporary road rehabilitation. This stems from the fact that stakeholders lack proper organisation and some of them seem not willing to work as a team.

The road network leading deep into the emerald producing fields in Lufwanyama District north -west of the Copperbelt is in a deplorable state and impassable during the rainy season. This certainly is one of the reasons that has put off some of the potential investors. Communication is unrealiable and some investors mostly foreigners and a few locals rely on radio communication. The issue of security is also cardinal as foreign investors would like to be assured of guaranteed security of both their production and their lives.

Political will by the current Government which has continued to sustain the enabling investment climate the country has been enjoying for a long time is worth appreciating. The Government has particularly pledged to work with the industry through the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) to attract meaningful investments to the sector.As Mines Minister Wylbur Simuusa puts it, the gemstone sector in general, apart from being the biggest employer, could also become the biggest exporter and could double the current contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if well harnessed.

Stakeholders through private partnerships should reorganise themselves and attract institutions such as the World Bank or the African Development Bank (AfDB) for example, to help finance development of some of the infrastructure.

Until all these issues, among others, are addressed, attracting meaningful inward investments will be difficult to achieve in the long run because gemstone mining is an expensive venture which needs powerful and focused investors.

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