Miners want officials to help promote gem tourism

Gemstones

Gemstone sellers Sarah Mueni and Barnet Tayo display their gemstones at their showroom at the Voi SGR station in Taita Taveta County.

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika | Nation Media Group.

Gemstone miners in Taita Taveta have urged the government to promote gem tourism as a new segment that the players say will boost the sector.

Taita Taveta hosts Tsavo National Park, the largest ecosystem in Kenya that attracts thousands of visitors to see wildlife, especially elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos.

The county is also one of the leading producers of gemstones and has vast deposits of over 40 high-value stones, including Tsavorite, ruby, tourmaline, red garnets, green garnet, sapphire and quartz.  

The lack of a market has been a challenge for the miners, who are often exploited by brokers who buy their stones at low prices.

To tap into the tourism market, Taita Taveta miners have secured showrooms to exhibit their gemstones at the Voi and Miasenyi standard gauge railway stations.

They want to leverage this high tourism season to sell gemstones to tourists and expand the market for their stones.

Through the help of the Africa Social Financing Centre, members of the Taita Taveta artisanal miners association will showcase their raw and processed gemstones to train passengers.

The association's chairperson, David Zowe, said the showroom at the Voi station will open daily and the one in Miasenyi monthly.

“The Miasenyi exhibition will be from the first to the seventh of every month. It will only showcase high-value stones like Tsavorites and rubies. We chose it because of its proximity to the Tsavo gate," he said.

He said gem tourism will market the stones and the tourism sector.

"This is a big step for us because it will expand the market for our stones. The stations are convenient for buyers and it is easy for them to access the showrooms," he said.

Another miner, James Mwadime, said the government should help make the sector sustainable.

Improving practices like using safety gadgets, safer mining techniques and allocating mining areas to locals, he said, will help support the livelihoods of thousands of people in the local community who are yet to benefit from the industry.

Lack of a market

"Apart from lack of a market, some of the artisanal and small-scale miners lack mining areas, something that the government needs to solve," he said.

If the government embraces and supports gem tourism, it will benefit small and artisanal miners who are struggling to get a market for their stones, said Africa Social Financing Centre Managing Partner Davis Tayo.

“Many tourists who visit the county for wildlife could be encouraged to visit the mines, sample and buy minerals that are in plenty. We are asking the Ministry of Tourism to support us in this," he said.

Mr Tayo also urged the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) to arrange for the Madaraka Express passenger trains to make stopovers at the Voi station for potential buyers to view the stones and other products.

"If the express train is allowed to stop at Voi, it will enable buyers to travel from Nairobi or Mombasa in the morning and return in the evening after buying our products," he said.

He said miners also want a commercial partnership with the KRC extended to other stations in Emali due to its proximity to Amboseli National Park.

Mr Tayo said the showrooms will complement the Voi Gemstone Cutting and Value Addition Centre that the government plans to open.

The facility will offer value addition services, including identification, cutting and polishing of gemstones.

The Sh50 million facility, which has not opened to the public, has a laboratory and equipment for the work. It is expected to open the region for trading in gemstones by organising trading fairs and training artisanal and small-scale miners.

"The facility has state-of-the-art equipment for cutting and value addition," he said.

The Taita Taveta County government said it will work with miners to exploit the resource for the benefit of residents.

Mining executive Elizabeth Mkongo said gemstones can boost the economy of the devolved unit by shoring up internally generated revenue.

Ms Mkongo said the county government is ready to facilitate miners with modern tools and link them with markets for their stones.

"We have investors who are coming to support the miners and the locals to venture into mining. I cannot reveal much because we are in talks with them," she said.

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