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Jun 20, 2019

KP Special Forum on Artisanal Mining: Small Steps Can Yield Large Outcomes

Transforming conditions in the artisanal diamond mining sector is possible through a number of small, easy-to-implement initiatives, and this can help change some of the negative perceptions about the diamond industry in the minds of consumers in major markets, a number of experts speaking at a Forum on Artisanal Mining in the diamond sector said in Mumbai yesterday.

The Special Forum was held during the ongoing KP Intersessional Meeting currently underway in the city from June 17-21, 2019, which is being attended by nearly 200 delegates from the 82 countries that have set up this certification scheme for the diamond trade.

Setting a context for the deliberations, Pranay Narvekar, CEO MyKYCBank, said that the panel would look at the changes required in processes related to the discovery, transport and valuation of diamonds, as well as the systems by which these could be achieved, be it through co-operatives, assisted groups or enabling mechanisms that empowered the workforce. Different case studies would be presented by the panellists, both from within and out of the industry, as possible examples of the way forward, he added.

Feriel Zerouki, Vice President, GemFair, De Beers Group explained the pilot project for the artisanal mining sector that De Beers had recently launched in association with the Diamond Development Initiative in the Kono district of Sierra Leone. She emphasised that there were an estimated 1.5 million artisans in diamond mining globally and the poor conditions in which they work was being portrayed in sections of the media and even by some lab-grown diamond manufacturers in a manner that was stigmatising diamond equity.

“We need to change the popular narrative about this sector from a Story of Devastation to a Story of Development,” Zerouki said, while presenting an overview of GemFair, an initiative recently launched by De Beers.

“Our aim is to develop a secure route to the market for ethically-sourced artisanal and small-scale mined diamonds,” Zerouki added, pointing out that GemFair was attempting to bring together governments, civil society and industry players to help uplift the artisanal mining communities.

The next two panellists, Ullhas Shantaram Muke, President of the Mumbai Dabbawallas Association and Mahendra Patel, President of the All India Aangadiya Association, presented case studies of how their respective businesses operate.

The former showed that simple solutions could be developed to secure a chain of custody without even the use of basic technology, and said that the error margin (one in 6 million) with which the 5,000 plus dabbawallahs (80% of whom are illiterate) in Mumbai conducted about 4,00,000 transactions each day was far superior to that deemed as permissible under Six Sigma systems!

Angadias are crucial to the Indian diamond industry which is spread from Mumbai to Surat and across different parts of Gujarat, securely transporting about 90% of the diamonds that move across these centres at a fraction of the cost of major logistic chains. He described how this traditional service that emerged during the times when kings and queens ruled India, has adopted modern, hi-tech solutions (a parcel can even be tracked through GPRS!) in the 21st century.

Three other case studies from within the Indian gem and jewellery industry were presented as systems that could also be adapted to the artisanal mining sector.

The first was on the Common Facility Centres set up for the benefit of small-scale diamond manufacturers in Gujarat which was now being extended to the jewellery industry as well. After presenting details about this initiative of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of the Government of India (MoC&I), which was being implemented in partnership with The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and local trade associations, Ms Rupa Dutta, Economic Advisor, MoC&I, said that the Indian government was willing to extend its support in developing a similar scheme for the artisanal mining sector. “We are ready to share our expertise in framing project proposals and can even consider one-time assistance in some cases,” she stated.

Presenting the basic framework of three welfare schemes – Swasthya Ratna, Parichay Card and Swasthya Kosh – developed by GJEPC for artisans in the diamond and jewellery sector in India, Sabyasachi Ray, ED, GJEPC said that the aim was to create a proper data base of those employed in the sector and ensure that certain social benefits, primarily in health care, were made available to every one of them, including the vast majority who work within the unorganised sector. “These are industry-driven schemes to improve the conditions of the workforce, and industry funding plays an important role in driving them,” he noted, adding that such models could be applied in countries in Africa to benefit artisans in the mining sector too.

The final presentation by Dr Shayequa Zeenat Ali, Consultant, NCAER, outlined the Cluster Mapping scheme initiated by GJEPC under which a study was being conducted to identify the key regions in which the industry operates and the specific nature of each. She emphasised that this was critical, as “currently there are no plausible statistics available on the number of clusters, units or workers employed.”

She concluded by pointing out, “Identification of clusters would enable decision / policy makers choose locations for common manufacturing facilities and also identify beneficiaries for social schemes… (helping in) overall transformation of the sector to a more organised structure.”

Pic caption: Panelists at the Special Forum on Artisanal Mining (from l) Dr Shayequa Zeenat Ali, NCAER; Sabyasachi Ray, GJEPC; Ulhas Shamrao Muke, Mumbai Dabbawala.in; Rupa Dutta, Economic Advisor, MoC&I; Feriel Zerouki, De Beers Group; Mahendra Patel, Aangadiya Association and Pranay Narvekar, MyKYCBank