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Library Scratching the surface

Scratching the surface

Scratching the surface
Tracing coloured gemstone flows from Mozambique and Malawi to Asia

Resource information

Date of publication
October 2021
Resource Language

The trade in coloured gemstones stretches around the world, linking source countries on almost every continent to international trade hubs, mainly in Asia, and on to retail markets. Mozambique is one such source, sitting atop significant gemstone deposits, including precious and semi-precious stones. In fact, the discovery of ruby deposits in northern Mozambique in 2009 has been called the most significant find of this century and the country is now the world’s largest ruby producer.1 Globally, most gemstone mining is conducted by artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), and much of this is informal. Likewise, in northern Mozambique and Malawi most extraction is conducted by ASM, except for large-scale mining (LSM) operation Montepuez Ruby Mining Limitada (MRM) and a growing number of other com panies. The informality and opaque nature of the coloured gemstone industry leaves it vulnerable to smuggling and other criminal activities. The clandestine character is partly a function of the physical nature of coloured gemstones – they are inherently difficult to value and depend on the skill of artisans to draw out their beauty – and partly due to the financial imperative to protect gemstone sources and relationships from potential competitors. This secrecy that surrounds the trade makes it incredibly difficult both to tackle its undesirable effects and to support development in gemstone-producing countries. This paper provides an overview of the supply chains and flows that run from the mines of northern Mozambique and Malawi, to the international trade hubs of Sri Lanka and Thailand. Analysis of the political and economic environment in which mining and trading take place gives a contextual understanding of gemstone flows both within and out of the region as well as the various actors involved.

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