Supporting small, women-led gemstone mining in Tanzania

June 25, 2021
Khadija Rashidi, an artisanal miner with the Tanzanian Women Miners Association.

When the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) approached Pact in 2016 about piloting a rough gemstone guide for miners, we knew immediately knew where to start--an association of women miners, the Tanzanian Women Miners Association, or TAWOMA. 

Soon, all three organizations were in Tanga, a region of eastern Tanzania near the Indian Ocean that is home to rubies, sapphires, garnets, tourmaline and more. Made specifically to give basic gemological and market knowledge to artisanal miners in gem-producing regions, the gemstone guide, Selecting Gem Rough, was developed by a team of GIA gemology, market, education and design staff who consulted with experts who buy in rural areas. Along with the guide, the partnership provides critical training directly to gemstone miners, many of them women, so they could better understand their gems and how to handle and sell them for the best prices. 

GIA first distributed the guide with training to about 50 women miners in the Tanga region, near Tanzania’s eastern border. Three years later, GIA interviewed one of the miners, Khadija Rashidi, to find out if the guide had changed her business.  

“By using the GIA mineral guidebook and applying what GIA has taught us, our community has changed for the better since GIA’s visit in 2016,” Khadija says. “Before the GIA mineral guidebook and GIA training, we sold our gemstones for next to nothing. Now, we understand how to classify and sort our gemstones and bargain for better prices.” 

Thanks to the higher prices and income, some of the community members have moved from shacks to sturdy houses. While they may have had to miss meals before, now they have enough food. "Our quality of life has improved,” she adds. 

Two groups of women in her community are mining together, and one of the groups also raises and sells chickens for extra income to buy diesel gasoline or equipment that will help them mine, or to buy food. "The chicken co-op project helps them sustain themselves when they aren't selling gemstones,” says Khadija. 

The GIA trainings were a success, but working with Tanga’s gem miners highlighted another big problem they faced: they lacked a consistent market for selling their gemstones. Often mining and living in remote areas far from paved roads, and without the means to travel into more populated areas, miners were forced by necessity to sell to local brokers for whatever price was offered – generally far less than what their gems would end up fetching further along the supply chain. Local brokers also usually withheld half the selling price until they sold the gem on; often, miners never got what they were owed. 

“Not all of the brokers are happy,” says Khadija. “But the ones who get it are happy because they are joining our group and they're meeting the buyers.”  

Building on the solid foundation laid by the GIA partnership, Pact joined forces with two gem dealers – ANZA Gems and Nineteen48 – who wanted to buy gemstones directly from women miners like Khadija. Working directly with the miners themselves, leadership of TAWOMA and key local leaders, an ethical gemstones program called Moyo Gems, officially launched in 2019. With their preferred local broker to represent them, the women sell their gemstones directly to international buyers at regular Market Days hosted near their villages.

“Moyo Gems is a blessing to us. Moyo has given us the exposure to sell our gemstones at a fair price and the international market is right there. Before we would get our gemstones and run to people out there who didn't give us a fair price, but now we're getting a fair price. Moyo is helping a lot and we're making new friends who are buying our gemstones.”

Women like Khadija and her fellow TAWOMA members – known as artisanal and small-scale miners – mine 80-90% of all colored gemstones. They are a critical, but often hidden, part of global supply chains. With training and access to markets, today their enterprises are stronger, they are more income-secure and they are no longer working in the shadows.