The Gemstone Mining Sector

Gemstone mining in Taita Taveta County occurs at three levels: large-scale, small-scale and artisanal mining.  As at 2021, there were only two large-scale gemstone mines in the County – Rockland Kenya Limited (a Ruby mine in Mangare area of Tsavo West National Park) and Bridges Exploration International Ltd (a Tsavorite mine in Mwatate).  These two have formed Community Development Agreement Committees in accordance with the Mining Act of 2016.


There are 162 small-scale mines in the County covering a total area of 72.6491 square kilometres. The actual number of artisanal miners is largely unknown.  The artisanal miners were only recently recognised as a legal category in the Mining and Minerals Policy (2016).  The quantification and verification of the miners has been ongoing process since 2016.  Once completed, it will help in the licencing of artisanal miners; and ultimately distinguish and separate the genuine small-scale miners from speculating small-scale mineral right holders.  However, most of the artisanal miners lack resources needed to get the necessary permits and to construct safe mines.


It is believed that artisanal and small-scale mining contribute up to 60% of the annual gemstone production in the County.  They organize themselves into community-based organisations (CBOs), Cooperatives and others are Private Limited Liability Companies.  The licensed mining organisations own the mineral rights and are accountable to the government. 


Artisanal miners mostly use traditional mining methods employing the use of basic tools such as mallets, chisels, shovels, picks, buckets etc and manual labour for excavation and extraction of the gemstone. Music is a form of therapy due to the nature of the work.  The small-scale miners use some form of mechanization and employ labour to facilitate their work in the mines. A good number of these small-scale mines have resources for mine planning, development and management.


The mining and processing of gemstones is a multi-million dollar industry in Kenya.  It has a great potential to contribute to the socio-economic development of Taita Taveta County, and to the National Economy in general.  According to the Government of Kenya statistics, in 2018, the gemstone exports accounted for about USD 5 million (Kshs 500 million).  The rough gemstones were about 508,815.37 kilograms (with a Gross Sales value of about USD Four million) and the cut gemstones were 14,500.35 carats (with a Gross Sales value of about USD One million).



The resources from gemstone mining have led to rapid growth of local towns and shopping centres; expansion of auxiliary local businesses and of roads.  A good number of ASMs have been able to sustain their livelihoods.  Income from gemstone mining helps meet the basic needs like food, health care, clothing and education for their immediate and extended families.  However, the sector faces enormous social, ecological, economic and governance challenges.

Small-scale mine workers using basic mechanized methods to drill and remove waste at a mine. The workers are also provided with some protective gear.