Professional Jeweler Archive: Madagascar Gem Projects on Track

December 2004


Madagascar Gem Projects on Track

Government wants to convince stakeholders smuggling is an inefficient, costly and illegal way to do business

A $32 million dollar loan from the World Bank is helping Madagascar develop and manage its mineral resources, according to Tom Cushman, the International Colored Gemstone Association’s Madagascar ambassador. The loan helps to fund Madagascar’s Mineral Resources Governance Project, known as PRGM, which runs through 2008.

The project aims to modernize and formalize mining methods on the island, which is rich with corundum, beryl, diamond, tourmaline, sphene, garnet and quartz. Current mining methods, largely used by small-scale miners, are considered unsafe and environmentally damaging.

The government also is studying ways to change the culture of gem commerce: It wants to convince stakeholders gem smuggling is an inefficient, costly and illegal way to do business.

During the 2004 Tucson Gem Shows, Jacquis Rabarison, the country’s minister of energy and mines, promised reform to make the country a more attractive destination for buyers. “A ‘One-Stop Window’ for gemstone exports has opened next to the Ministry of Mines office in Antananarivo, the capital,” says Cushman. “Unfortunately, turf battles between Customs and the Ministry of Mines have held up the progress of this office, and a new study is under way to sort out differences between the informal needs of customs officers and the export code. In addition, a new visa and royalty system that would allow non-residents to buy gems in Madagascar is being studied, but there are numerous technical hurdles.”

Among the first advancements Cushman reports is the African Institute de Gemology de Madagascar, a project of PRGM. The institute recently opened its doors to its first students, and a gem-cutting school opened in October to develop skills in mechanized precision cutting, particularly for valuable, larger stones. For now, the institute is seeking donors who can supply cutting material.

Other highlights of Madagascar’s gem mining include:

  • Geuda rough sapphires mined at Ilakaka remain plentiful. Mine owners cull the larger gems (above 2 carats), making large material scarce.
  • Vatomandry and Andilamena rubies are scarce. Disputes over ownership of the mines have not been resolved.
  • Gems reaching Madagascar’s capital are said to be lower quality than in previous years, despite higher average per-carat prices. This suggests alluvial and surface mining operations are largely over and that deeper mechanized mining operations will be the next step.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

A World Bank loan is helping Madagascar develop its mineral resources, including gems such as these garnets, rubellite tourmalines and pink sapphires. Pink sapphires, in plentiful supply two years ago, are now running scarce, say gem dealers. Gems are courtesy of Allerton Cushman, Sun Valley, ID. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications