Sapphire is the most precious and valuable blue gemstone, found in Tigray and Oromia Regional States.
By Fasika Tadesse
Ethiopia has earned 7.8 million dollars from the export of 2,031kg of the newly discovered precious gemstones of sapphire and emerald.
The exported sapphire is blue, and it was extracted from Tigray Regional State in two Weredas amounting to 31kg and helped the country to generate 180,000 dollars.
Emerald was discovered in Guji Zone, Oromia Regional State, generating around seven million dollars of foreign currency from the export of 2,000kg of the precious mineral.
Three Kebeles in Mereb Leke Wereda, namely Awet, Tila and Hadush Simehden, are the areas where the sapphire was extracted, in addition to Medego Kebele in Lailay Maichew Wereda.
So far, Tigray Regional State has extracted 51.5kg of sapphire. The mineral was discovered in November 2016, then five months later the extraction was started. About 10,000 people were involved in the extraction of the mineral in the region.
The precious green gemstone, emerald, was discovered during the beginning of 2017 in Oromia Regional State, and so far it has created job opportunity for 30,000 individuals who live in the area.
These minerals were mainly exported to Switzerland, Australia and the US. The two gemstones are currently extracted by artisanal miners who are organised in unions and cooperatives.
“The extraction has not yet entered into a well-organized system as farmers from the area are currently extracting it,” said Fiseha Merssa, director of mineral license & administration at the Tigray Water, Mines & Energy Bureau.
The Ministry of Mines, Petroleum & Natural Gas (MoMPNG) has not yet made any assessment to discover the reserve of the country for these precious minerals, according to Kiros Alemayehu, acting communications director of the Ministry, but he asserted that they are planning to commission studies for the discovery of the nation’s deposits of these gemstones.
“If large-scale miners came, we would proceed with them by the legal frameworks we have been administering gemstones, such as opal,” Motuma Mekassa, minister of MoMPNG told Fortune.
During the just-ended fiscal year, the country earned a total of 231 million dollars from mineral exports, out of which 3.4pc was from the sapphire and emerald.
Although there is no geological map which locates the reserve of sapphire, the government got a signal that the mineral exists in Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities & Peoples’ regional states.
“We have discovered that sapphire is also deposited in our region,” said Jarso Edema, deputy head of the Oromia Water, Mines & Energy Bureau.
Sapphire is the most valuable and expensive blue gemstone in the global market next to diamond. In the world market, a polished blue sapphire sold at a price of up to 15,000 dollars a carat. Emerald is sold for 4,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars per carat depending on the quality and grade of the gemstone.
Before promoting these minerals and going to the global market, the Ministry had to conduct a geological survey to discover the national reserve of the minerals and conduct laboratory tests to demonstrate the nature of the minerals, according to Merga Kenna, director of the Ethiopian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EEITI).
“They had to address first what these commodities are, their grades and quality,” said Merga. “At this stage, the Ministry has no transparency concerning figures and facts over these particular minerals.”
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