Although the Kagem mine is the largest single producer, a government-mandated concession area allows 430 artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) to operate.
“In mining for emeralds, the difficulties are significant, with the biggest challenge [being] finding investors to provide equipment,” says Susan Wheeler of Virtu Gem. The nonprofit platform partners with mining associations to offer members a conduit for selling gems at a fair price to international markets. Virtu Gem places a 20% premium on the cost of the stones, which then goes back to the mining association for local assistance programs.
When mining stopped during Covid-19, Virtu Gem supported food drives, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other help for the mining communities. “When it comes to responsible sourcing for ASM, what is responsible for us is seeing them wear hardhats,” says Wheeler. “What is responsible for them is being able to feed themselves.”