We publish courtesy of G&G eBrief
Author: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory, Bangkok
Photos by Vincent Pardieu
In July-August 2010, this contributor visited the Ilakaka-Sakaraha and Andranondambo mining areas in southern Madagascar with several colleagues. In addition to collecting reference samples for GIA, our goal was to assess the state of the sapphire industry in the region.
Discovered in 1998, the Ilakaka-Sakaraha deposit extends more than 80 km from the Isalo National Park toward Toliara on the southwest coast. The area produces an abundance of pink and blue sapphires (most of which require heat treatment), as well as a wide variety of other gems.
Many Thai and Sri Lankan dealers have buying offices in the area, and most of the stones are exported to those two countries for heat treatment and cutting. Compared to my previous visits in 2005 and 2008, the number of foreign buyers has dropped, and they are paying lower prices for the gems.
Mining activity has also waned; we found only three small operations (two Thai, one Malagasy) still using machinery. The main mining area was located near Antsoa, southeast of Sakaraha, where about 1,500 miners were active. Antsoa was reportedly producing the best blue sapphires, with fine rough stones up to 10 g.
We found anywhere from 10 to 500 people working at the more than 20 other sites we visited. We estimate that about 50,000 people are now earning a living (directly or indirectly) from sapphire mining in Ilakaka-Sakaraha, half the number reported in 2005.
In the Andranondambo area, blue sapphires are mined from several primary deposits by small groups of artisanal miners near Andranondambo, Maromby, Tirimena, and Siva. The most active mining area appeared to be Ankazoabo (north of Andranondambo), where Malaysian company Nantin Ltd. was operating heavy machinery alongside some 200 artisanal miners using hand tools.
Gem mining in Madagascar, particularly in Ilakaka, has faced many difficulties in recent years. In particular, from February 2008 to July 2009, the Malagasy government banned all gem exports. The main reason for the current decrease in activity seems to be the global economic crisis and the resulting poor market. In turn, the mining community has suffered shortages of food and other necessities, and security issues plague the region. Shrinking margins have led to fierce competition between buyers, and many are considering a switch to ruby dealing in Mozambique.