Gemstones mining in Taita Taveta
Mining is one of the major economic activities in Taita-Taveta county offering employment and income to hundreds of locals who live around gemstone-rich areas. The County is the largest producer of gemstones in the Country. Taita Taveta’s gemstones exports account for Kshs 5B (out of 11 billion nationally) – this is significant compared to the figures from gold (Kshs 3.5B) and soda ash (Kshs 7.5B). Previously the industry was dominated by men but now there significant involvement of women and youth.
Mining of gemstones is primarily done in the drier areas of the County where valuable stones such as Tsavorite, Ruby, Tanzanite and Tourmaline can be found, these areas are arid and semi-arid and therefore not suitable for agriculture. Pictured below is an example of green garnet mined by one of the community groups in the SustASM project.
While gemstone mining in the County is done at different levels, artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMs) are the majority and account for over 50% of the gems produced. ASM represent a significant proportion of the national mining production and remains an important avenue for income generation for the locals.
ASMs mostly use traditional mining methods employing the use of basic tools such as mallets, chisels, shovels, picks, buckets etc and manual labor for excavation and extraction of the gemstone. Music is a form of therapy due to the nature of the work. Pictured below are some of the tools used by ASMs.
ASM in Taita Taveta like in most part of the world is mostly done outside the law without compliance to industry standards. Majority of the artisanal miners lack resources needed to get the necessary permits and construct mines. As shown in the picture below, artisanal mining areas are not well organized, and the mines has different entry points allocated to different miners, this is very dangerous and likely to cause harm to the miners themselves and other land user. The miners and communities around the mines are exposed to environmental, occupational health and safety risks. Amongst the consequences of such, is poor social and economic wellbeing. This sector faces enormous social, ecological, economic and governance challenges. The mining areas are characterized by abandoned open mining pits.
Other than ASMs the mining industry in Taita Taveta also has small-scale miners who use some form of mechanization and employ labor to facilitate their work in small or medium-sized mines. A good number of these small-scale mines have resources for mine planning, development and management. The picture below represent a formal and more organized mine where workers are using basic mechanized methods to drill and remove waste from the mine. The workers are also provided with some protective gear.