By Ben Phiri –
The year 2013, will not just come to a close without an overview of the gemstones sector, which has now turned out to be Zambia’s most lucrative industry.
Developments documented in this sector during the year reveal the fact that there was high demand for emeralds from all corners of the globe.
In addition, Zambian emeralds are among the best in the world due to quality and that, the country owns the world’s single largest emerald mine, Gemfields, jointly run by Kagem and the Government.
With Gemfields owning the majority shares of 75 per cent, the Government which has returned 25 per cent, wants to ensure that it turns the industry around in the coming couple of years.
That is why it was in a hurry to effect a ban on external auctioning of rough and high grade precious stones during the year under review.
The ban was taken in the best interest of this country and it will promote transparency and accountability.
It was also difficult in the past to account for the products and no one could catch a glimpse of how much worth of emeralds which went out of the country daily from this somewhat sensitive industry.
From 2014 and onwards, there should be a system that will consistently monitor proceeds from the industry so that it can make a meaningful contribution to this country’s economy.
The labour intensive sector has great potential to open up other supporting industries such as gem cutting and polishing as well as, jewerly and create massive employment opportunities.
In the two major exhibitions or so held so far, US$15.2 million was realised in the first auction while a total of $32.5 million was raked in during the second one.
This has maximised Government revenue collection and if enhanced, the industry will be the largest contributor to the national treasury after copper mining.
As mining experts such as Sixtus Mulenga have observed, Government’s decision to ban external auctions of emeralds and other precious stones was a positive4 move.
According to experts, the country has not derived full potential from the emeralds industry and therefore, has contributed very little to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
By not adding value to the country’s emeralds, creates hundreds of jobs in other countries where the rough emeralds go.
No wonder why Government has shown interest in partnering with Gemfields to set up a transparent trading system which directly points towards value addition.
Government will give the emeralds industry all the necessary support to establish Zambia as a renowned world’s emeralds producer and trading centre.
It is the Gvernment’s desire to have an efficient and transparent trading system for the gemstones sector so that it can create employment opportunities through value addition.
While the emeralds industry has recorded successes, there is need to encourage more of such auctions at local level to benefit more Zambians and the economy.
This will also encourage and enhance Government’s long term plan of economic diversification aimed at developing the country’s economy and creating more jobs and run away from over dependence on copper mining.
It is important for the Government and other stakeholders in 2014, to look at how the gemstone industry can be helped in terms of operating capital for small scale miners, so as to upscale production of precious stones.
On the other hand, the Emeralds and Semi precious Miners Association of Zambia (ESMAZ) wants more Government and Private sector support in terms of establishing more lapidary training centres as well as, gem cutting projects by both local and foreign investors.
It could clearly be seen that Government is on the right track to develop the local emeralds industry and is determined to fulfil many of its promises such as employment creation through value addition and the development of this country’s economy.