As De Beers Group continues to make progress on its Building Forever sustainability commitments, GemFair played a key role in advancing the company’s goal to develop scalable solutions to raise livelihoods of artisanal and miners by 2030. In 2022, GemFair made progress in three key areas:
- Understanding ASM livelihoods: We gained a better understanding of the livelihoods of the artisanal mining community of Kono, Sierra Leone through a household survey following up on the baseline we took at the beginning of the program in 2018;
- Providing access to finance: We provided access to fair and transparent pre-financing for more artisanal miners; and
- GemFair in the world: We continued to set an example for responsible sourcing from the ASM sector.
Koidu From Above
Understanding the varied income-generating strategies of Kono's mining community
We commissioned an independent assessment in the Kono district of Sierra Leone to provide data and analysis on the socio-economic conditions of artisanal and small-scale mining households. The researchers conducted a household survey of 127 participants from GemFair and sixty-one participants who are not yet in the GemFair programme. The sample included three dozen respondents who participated in our 2018 baseline assessment which we commissioned before we launched the GemFair programme. In particular, the researchers studied food security, cost of living and seasonal distribution of livelihoods in the region. The purpose of this follow-up assessment was to inform our strategy to bolster livelihoods of Kono's ASM community. Below are some of the study's key findings.
Who are the miners?
We learned more about the profile of the miners we work with, namely that 90 per cent of artisanal diamond miners are male, with an average of nine dependents. Most miners participating in GemFair have over 10 years of experience in mining. In addition to mining, 82 per cent of the respondents take a second job during the slower mining months. The primary secondary livelihood for Kono's miners is farming and indeed over half of the respondents' income comes from a secondary livelihood.
Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been concerned about the food security of ASM communities in Kono, so we used this assessment to investigate whether the food security situation has changed since we conducted our baseline survey in 2018. The household survey analysis revealed that while food security has worsened since 2018, respondents are not experiencing a food emergency. Still, food prices have increased an average of 38 per cent in Sierra Leone, and we are mindful of those inflationary pressures on mining communities. You can read more about how GemFair is supporting greater food security in Kono here.
How we are using these findings in our programming
One interesting result of the study was that by and large, mine sites that are part of the GemFair programme pay higher wages, employ more workers, and see overall better working conditions. Moreover, the researchers found that in geographical areas where there is a cluster of sites participating in GemFair’s access to finance programme, local GemFair members have established a tacit unwritten agreement with managers from other sites where they rotate the workforce in order to give everyone a chance to work on a GemFair member site.
We are actively looking at ways to help make the programme more inclusive and accessible to a wider group of miners, while still meeting GemFair’s expected standards. The intention is for more miners to access the benefits of the GemFair programme and improve their working conditions along the way.
Fair access to finance programme scaled
GemFair recognises that financing artisanal miners is of critical importance to drive the improvement of standards, raise incomes and build a commercially sustainable programme. This year, our fair access to finance programme, called the Forward Purchase Agreement programme (FPA), was our biggest yet. Throughout 2022, we fully financed the operations of forty-nine mine sites across seven diamondiferous Chiefdoms in the Kono district. We hope to grow the proportion of members participating in FPA in the in the coming years.
We created 418 full-time jobs as part of our access to finance programme
Forging agreements hand-in-hand with miners
Our FPA programme is more than just the provision of finance: we are committing to a deeper partnership with our ASM members, from mine planning through to extraction and production. We start with extensive consultation between the field team and the licence holder to co-develop a work plan for the site based on the geology and the available resources. We build the contracts on mutually agreeable terms, and we communicate the contracts to beneficiaries in local languages to ensure they provide informed consent. The contracts further establish the roles, responsibilities, and rights of both parties, with an emphasis on establishing equity.
Once mining is underway, our GemFair staff make regular visits to each site to monitor progress, support miners to make critical decisions related to mine operations and ensure that miners are meeting the required standards. During a consultative workshop held with FPA participants in June, miners underscored the importance of this regular contact time, saying GemFair supports the continuous improvement and professionalisation of their mining operations.
As we grow the programme, we are also getting smarter about how we select sites, based on accumulated experience from the previous years’ pilots.
Mine site reclamation in progress
Visiting a Gemfair support farm
A farmer harvesting cucumbers
Planting the next crop
GemFair's reclamation programme transforming former mine sites into farms
As a signatory of the Paris Climate Accords, the Government of Sierra Leone has prepared its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) ,report which was most recently updated in 2021. We are pleased to see that the NDC places a significant focus on agriculture and the reclamation of previously mined areas. GemFair supports the objectives of this ambitious plan by expanding our mine site reclamation project and enabling the conversion of former mining land into sustainable smallholder farms.
This year saw us grow our reclamation and cultivation project from three sites to seven. We worked closely with village authorities and community members to select sites that would have the greatest benefit for the community, both in terms of removing the potential safety hazard of abandoned mining pits, but also bringing the land back to a state where farmers could once again cultivate it. Each of the villages adjacent to the sites selected the reclamation workers and the families who would be cultivating the former mines. We introduced new crops this year as well, including bananas and carrots. The farmers harvested and sold a portion of the fruits and vegetables at the local market and took a proportion home to supplement their family meals.
We created sixty-two full-time jobs this year in our reclamation and farming programme
Training the trainers session at a Gemfair Farm
Determining the depth of the topsoil
Delineating the crop beds
Setting up plant beds with sufficient space to encourage ideal growth
We invited an agronomist to return to Sierra Leone for a second project evaluation visit. During his visit, he conducted ‘train-the trainers’ sessions for our field team, toured the farms and recommended improvements in irrigation, soil, composting, seed selection and more.
Overall, the agronomist’s assessment of the project, and the communities involved in transforming former mining areas into sustainable productive farms, was extremely positive. There is always room for improvement, however, and we will carry forward the following recommendations:
- Restoration of topsoil: For crops to grow, there needs to be sufficient topsoil. We will advise the reclamation workers to ensure that they complete the back filling of sites with a 20-centimeter layer of topsoil. Moreover, we will reduce the acidity of the soil by distributing lime to the farms throughout the coming year.
- Seedling quality: We are introducing higher-quality organic perennials and biennial seeds so we can see our crops return year on year.
- Composting: The agronomist taught our field team and the farmers how to set up composts at each of the farms to improve the quality of the soil and eliminate the need for chemical fertilisers.
One year anniversary of our farms
At the one-year anniversary of supporting smallholder farmers to cultivate reclaimed diamond mines, we marked the occasion with a small ceremony at the request of the participating farmers. At the ceremony, the GemFair team distributed a certificate to each farmer as a token of accomplishment and our appreciation for sticking with us since the beginning of the programme.