Zambia and Mozambique share experiences on the future of the gemstone mining

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(Keywords: gemstone manufacturers, gemstone)

A high-level delegation of officials from Zambia visited Mozambique last week to share experiences on the future of the gemstone mining sector between the two nations, which are home to the world’s largest emerald and ruby mines respectively.

The delegation, led by Ministry of Mines Permanent Secretary Paul Chanda, included senior representatives from the Zambia Revenue Authority, Mine Workers Union of Zambia, National Union of Miners and Allied Workers and Industrial Development Corporation, which owns 25 percent of Kagem Mining in a partnership with London-based Gemfields, which also operates Montepuez Ruby Mining in the Cabo Delgado Province of Mozambique.

The Zambian group, accompanied by Kagem chairman Dr Sixtus Mulenga and Gemfields and Kagem CEO Sean Gilbertson, travelled to Mozambique for the inauguration of MRM’s new US$15 million sort house by the Governor of the Cabo Delgado Province, Júlio José Parruque.

A first-of-its-kind in the coloured gemstone industry, the state-of-the-art facility is on a par with the best diamond facilities in the world and is set to significantly increase productive capacity and upskill employees.

“Gemfields are also partners of ours in Zambia running Kagem, and we have seen the kind of investment they have done here. These are the best partners, who are always practicing transparency, and we want people to bring numbers to the table, who want to show to their partners that this is what is available and how much they will pay to government. We have seen the kind of investment they have done here; they can replicate this in Zambia so we need them to put up a [new] sort house so we are able to use technology to manage our emerald industry,” said Mr Chanda during the visit.

Dr Mulenga said in the the past 13 years Gemfields has moved Africa to the top, the consequence of which is in Zambia, Kagem is now the largest emerald mining company in the world, and in Mozambique, Montepuez ruby mine is now the largest ruby producing mine in the world.

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“So the beauty of that for us in Zambia is that the Zambian government partnered with the right partner. For the gemstone industry now that Zambia is the leading emerald producer and Mozambique is the leading ruby producer we can see how to grow the industry and maximise value for the people of the two countries. For us in Zambia, Kagem has been the biggest taxpayer in the gemstone sector, now we want to see an increase in the trickle-down effect of that development, and hence our social corporate responsibility programme. We started a programme on sponsoring students at the University of Zambia to do degrees in geology and at Copperbelt University for degrees in mining so we are building the future and make sure Zambia continues to be competitive. More revenue means more tax for our government and therefore together we grow and contribute to the economy”, Dr. Mulenga said.

The facility itself will raise production levels significantly. It works by using the natural properties of rubies as a means of automated sorting. The process starts with washing of the raw material, before passing it under ultra-violet (UV) light. Rubies naturally fluoresce under UV light, meaning optical sorters can detect the fluorescence and employ blasts of air to direct individual rubies to separate channels for further sorting and grading.

The use of programmable logic controllers and data software under the UV light to conduct this process is faster, more reliable and more efficient than the human eye. It also allows the identification of a finer material component than before. A greater number of washing plants – the equivalent of washing 10,000 tonnes of ore per day – combined with UV optical sorting account for how throughput will increase exponentially, translating into significantly higher production figures.

However, the introduction of automation will not mean a reduction in workforce, in fact quite the opposite. Greater throughput of the sort house means an expansion of the current active mining area, requiring an increase in workforce, said the officials.

Furthermore, categorisation and grading the rubies themselves will require a greater number of highly skilled employees. Rather than import this expertise, MRM is creating the first group of Mozambican gemmologists specialised in the selection and classification of rubies, which marks a substantial step for both the ruby industry and Mozambique. In addition, the installation of the technology itself has equipped the Mozambican workforce with the technical ability to understand, operate and manage facilities of this nature anywhere in the world, enabling their place as a specialised and competitive labour force in the international employment market.

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