De Beers Announces Project to Help Diggers

With the plight of alluvial miners getting more attention, De Beers has announced a $2 million pilot project aimed at improving the lives and conditions of diamond diggers in Tanzania.

The announcement of the project, a joint effort with the government of Tanzania, was made at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York by De Beers director Jonathan Oppenheimer.

The project is still a limited one, involving miners who work on properties in Tanzania that De Beers owns. Still, it will affect some 10,000 to 20,000 diggers, and De Beers feels it could eventually be expanded to the estimated 1 million artisanal diggers globally. “We want to work with the local communities and with governments to see how to bring a regulatory system that would work to everyone’s benefit,” says Andy Bone of De Beers’ external corporate affairs and the partnership’s project manager.

At press time, the project was in a “diagnostic” phase to discover what exactly works, but organizers hope to have it up and running by January. “The diagnostics are very important,” Bone says. “There are so many well-intentioned projects that have gone on over the decades in Africa where all too often people implement solutions without understanding what the problem is. No one has really done something like this, and we want to make sure we understand what the problems are before we proceed.”

Among the benefits the project hopes to provide are better geological information to make sure the miners are spending their time productively; giving the miners access to better equipment; ensuring that diggers get fair value for their stones; and reinvesting money from the deposits in the local communities to help provide, for example, better schools and health care, and develop alternate streams of income.

Bone notes that Tanzania was chosen because “it’s been at peace since independence, and we are not dealing with a post-conflict situation like in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So it provides a more benign environment to test these principles.” In addition, the newly elected government of Tanzania has made helping the mining communities a priority.