BY BACHA ZEWDIE
The gemstones are light-reflecting, have an intricate pattern and are shiny, adorned with rainbows and colors, varying in color depending on the environment, and seeming inquisitive when viewed thoroughly.
Precious minerals are generally distinguished by their shape, natural properties, and color. Their value varies according to the mineral content. Jewelry made of precious mineral is a precious heritage.
Some professionals in the field, who think that re-enactment of a piece of jewelry made of gemstones, are a disgrace, say it is not hard to see how much more valuable and expensive things they are. These fascinating and valuable treasures are found in many lands.
They are also diverse. Evidence suggests, however, that there are precious stones in Ethiopia that are unique in their beauty. However, many may refer to the opal as a mineral, but it is said that there is little knowledge of the mineral resources in Ethiopia, and its aesthetics are rare.
On the other hand, it is more sought after and exploited by the foreign world as well as by those who are engaged in the sector. Focusing on the foreign exchange market is encouraged as it will have a positive impact on the country’s economic growth by increasing foreign exchange earnings. However, it is advisable to get used to the fact that the resources will be available in the domestic market, as it will help to find alternative markets. The effect of the COVID-19, which is a global threat, has imposed its pressure on the sector’s activity.
According to industry experts, the market has shrunk significantly since the outbreak of the pandemic. The effects of the pandemic continue unabated, and the problem is far from over. Commendably, the sector is thriving so far. In the case of Ethiopia, the war erupted in the northern part of the country has intensified the pressure on the sector.
Particularly, in the war-torn Amhara region endowed with the resource, the mining operations, value addition and marketing activity have been hampered.
Now, in the freed areas from the war, there is a growing demand for mineral resources. Asfaw Kidane, owner of Asfaw Precious Minerals Export Company, commented on this. He entered the sector in North Shoa because he had the opportunity to see the resources being used.
It was a dream comes true for him. He found it to be a lucrative business and spent almost 15 years in the career. Coalition Miners accept the product, and export value added and non value added opal, emerald, and sapphire. Recipients of the exporters are from Germany, France, and other countries.
They also participate in mining bazaars and exhibitions arranged in different countries and make new customers. Taking advantage of these favorable arrangements will not only create customers, but also create opportunities to promote the precious minerals of Ethiopia to citizens of some countries that are not aware of Ethiopia’s possession of the resources not found in other countries.
Within a year, they travel to at least three countries and participate. He assured that there is a large market for quality products. But, he added that it takes more effort to break into the market and get customers.
Asfaw is contributing to the country’s foreign exchange earnings. According to him, his business generates up to USD 100,000 a year. If COVID-19 and current national affairs had not occurred, the revenue would have been even higher.
This is the only income from his organization, and when combined with other companies in the same business, its economic benefits can be realized. The current state of affairs in the region, especially in the war-torn region, has been a source of frustration for the industry. Commendably, the slowing down of the tense is a wake-up call for professionals who are still struggling with their job.
There is hope, of course. He scheduled to attend a prestigious mineral exhibition in the United States later this month. The fact that Ethiopians and Ethiopian origins are returning home from different parts of the world at a time when some international community is pressuring them to stay out of the country and insisting others to leave Ethiopia is significant. Asfaw said their role in the economy, including the mining sector, will be significant, adding that a better way for the Diaspora to promote the country’s mineral resources when they return back will help them understand the benefits and participate in procurement.
The damage caused by the war is beyond verbal expression. It resulted in economic losses of individuals, families, regions and the country. Communities that depend on mining for their livelihoods have lost their daily bread, especially in the Amhara region.
Revenues from the sector have been cut off due to the absence of various payments from the sector. At a time when the country is facing cold shoulder from the international community and a severe foreign exchange deficit, declining revenues from the sector made the harm compounded. As a result, the loss the war incurred was multidimensional. Though the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) terrorist group has inflicted economic, social and political losses on the region’s mineral resources, its lifespan is shortened. Days have been lapsed since the terrorist group was defeated by the National Defense Forces and other sections of the community and the area was liberated.
The homecoming of one million Ethiopians and Ethiopian origin Diaspora responding to the call by FDRE Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) following the victory will play an important role in revitalizing the sector.
According to Yitayew Tesfahun, Public Relations Head of the Amhara Regional State Mining Development Bureau, based on the current situation; the bureaucracy in the region, especially in the area of precious stones, is in a state of crisis. Thus, efforts have been made to gather information and identify the losses encountered those involved in mining business.
The office gathers information through various arrangements and the renowned addresses; so that verified information will be available a few days later. Once the sorting process is complete, training support and fulfilling production equipment will continue.
This has taken into account the fact that those who were disrupted by the war have been left out of work and that the war has put psychological pressure on them. Thus, psychological training is essential to overcome this stress. One of the various activities being carried out to stimulate the precious stone miners is to use the opportunity by organizing exhibition and bazaar that consider the Diaspora to buy the jewelry and support in other means.
It is especially promising at Christmas and Baptism ceremonies, where large number of people both from home and abroad arrives in the region. Overall, the bureau’s efforts and the region’s ongoing attention, as well as the repatriation of the Diaspora have raised hopes that the war-torn gemstone development will return to normal.
Yitayew further said that Amhara State has mineral resource that can contribute to the growth of the national economy by generating huge foreign exchange; it is located in the North-East of the State: North Wollo, South Wollo and North Shoa; and in the Western part of the State in the south of Gondar. Especially, opal mineral is found in 16 weredas.
Opal is widely available in South Wollo, Delanta area of the region. As a result, most of the local people made their living by extracting this precious gemstone and providing to the market adding value. The Waghamra Abergele area is also home to a large number of traditional gold miners.
About 6,100 members were involved in the Opal development organized in 43 associations. In addition, about 85 associations that produce value-added jewelry and provide it to the consumer have been organized and become successful via creating jobs for 188 locals and contributing their part by solving the community’s socio-economic problems. Overall, precious stone that is benefiting the local community as a whole has generated USD 3.6 million from opal sales in the 2020/21 fiscal year.
If market linkages are created, it is safe to assume that the outcome will be even greater. As explained by Yitayew, even earlier to the outbreak of COVID and the current state of affairs, the mining bureau, which manages the sector, was not well-organized and has not given the sector appropriate focus which is resulted in poor performance.
Recently, however, the organization, which used to be an agency, has been upgraded to an office and expanded to district level. Extensive work has been done to modernize the traditional production method by providing training to the producers and supplying necessary inputs along with preventing illegal activities.
It is also planned to set up a market place where the production takes place and to provide something that will facilitate its operation. Although the region was preparing to transform the sector in this way, the fact that the main areas of production were in a war zone did not allow the movement to progress as much as it should. As a result of the war, mining companies in the sector ceased operations.
In North Shoa, the area out of the war zone, activity is underway in three woredas where the resources are located, but is not satisfactory. Manufacturers in the sector are also limited. He noted that the vast majority of the resources are concentrated in the North and South Wollo areas of the war zone where intensified work is also underway.
The January 14/2022