Madagascar Gem Projects on Track


August 16, 2004

Madagascar Gem Projects on Track

A $32 million dollar loan from the World Bank is helping Madagascar develop and manage its mineral resources, reports Tom Cushman, the International Colored Gemstone Association's Madagascar ambassador. The Mineral Resources Governance Project, known as PRGM, will run through 2008. Madagascar produces many species and varieties of gems including corundum, beryl, diamonds, tourmaline, sphene, garnet and quartz.

PRGM takes aim at modernizing and formalizing mining methods on the gem-rich island. Present mining methods, largely employed by small-scale miners, are considered unsafe and environmentally damaging. The government is also studying ways to change the existing culture of gem commerce; it wants to convince stakeholders that gem smuggling is an inefficient, costly and illegal way of doing business.

"At the 2004 Tucson Gem Shows, Madagascan Minister of Energy and Mines Jacquis Rabarison promised reform to make the country a more attractive destination for buyers," Cushman says. "For example, a 'One-Stop Window' for gemstone exports has opened adjacent to the Ministry of Mines office in Antananarivo, the capital. Unfortunately, turf battles between Customs and the Ministry of Mines have held up this office's progress, and a new study is underway to try to sort out the differences between the informal needs of the customs officers and the export code as written. In addition, a new visa and royalty system to allow nonresidents to legally 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. IGM opened its doors to its first students this month. A gem-cutting school will open in October focusing on developing skills in mechanized precision cutting, particularly for valuable, larger center stones. For now, IGM is seeking help from donors who can supply cutting material.

Other highlights of Madagascar's gem mining includes:
•Geuda rough sapphires mined at Ilakaka continue to be plentiful. Larger gems (above 2 carats) are culled by mine owners, making large material is scarce.
•Vatomandry and Andilamena rubies are scarce. Disputes over the ownership of the mines have not yet been resolved.
•Gems reaching the marketplace in Madagascar's capital are said to be of 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 are the next required step.

by Robert Weldon, G.G.

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