Gemstones trading – Courting the Kenyan consumers

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(c)Peter Irungu

The Association of Women in Extractives in Kenya (AWEIK) has partnered with the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, a State department for mining, to organise the Kenya Gem and Jewelry Fair (KGJF), an annual event that aims at providing a platform for industry players to network and do business. The third edition of the fair, which hopes to position Kenya as a gem-trading hub was held in July at Movenpick Hotel, Westlands. Projects manager Victoria Wahu talks to Victor Adar about the challenges and opportunities in gem trading.

What does the KGJF entail?

The Kenya Gem and Jewellery Fair entails giving opportunities to the gem and jewellery industry players to showcase their products and trade at an open market. KGJF allows this industry players that is the artisanal small scale miners, jewellery designers and gem dealers to take up exhibition booths and table to display their gems and jewellery to the buyers both local and international or people sourcing for gemstones. This year’s KGJF attracted a number of exhibitors both local and international and had over ten countries represented.

What inspired this journey, and how is AWEIK awakening women’s potential in the extractives sector?

AWEIK is a nation-wide organization that aims to connect women in Kenya with professional and business opportunities in the extractives value-chain through fostering relationships and sharing knowledge and experiences. Its vision is to provide women with opportunities for equitable professional and economic development within Kenya’s extractives industry. It also aims at opening up business opportunities, thought leadership, professional development opportunities, and knowledge transfer for Kenyan women in the extractives value chain in Kenya, the region and globally.

Kenya has 10 different precious stones. It can be tricky when sourcing especially in differentiating fake from genuine. How does one go about this? 

There are various ways of identifying a gemstone that is through observation and tests of a gem’s optical and physical properties, this is obviously backed by knowledge and experience on gemstones.

How is AWEIK creating awareness in regards to fakes in the industry?

Through KGJF one is able to attend the gem and jewellery fair and directly connect with the people who mine these gemstones. Also at the fair, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining offers certification for these gemstones. That way one is able to be sure that what they are dealing with is genuine. During KGJF also AWEIK normally holds a conference that seeks to educate the public and increase knowledge. This year’s KGJF for example held a conference with the theme “Responsible Sourcing of Minerals, Precious Stones and Metals in Africa”. The conference provided education on a number of pertinent topic in them gem sector, for example promoting investment opportunities in Kenya’s mining sector, responsible sourcing and value addition of gemstones and jewellery in Kenya among other interesting topics.

Your mission is to “To open up business opportunities through leadership, professional development opportunities, and knowledge transfer for Kenyan women in the extractives value chain in Kenya, the region and globally.” How well are you doing in this regard?

AWEIK membership comprises of different women working in different levels along the extractives value chain, we have women engineers, lawyers, mine owners, geologists just to mention but a few in AWEIK membership. We strive to bring all these women under the umbrella of AWEIK, which is a platform that aims at empowering and spearheading change within the sector. We have membership from across the country, in also the most remote places of the country where extraction takes place – Turkana country, Migori, Kakamega, Taita Taveta, Kwale County, and Kisii.

What’s the future of the gemstone industry? What economic or employment figures are we looking at?

The gemstone industry in Kenya has been in existence since time immemorial. The Mining Act 2016 made things better for every artisanal small scale miner as their activity were legalized and recognized under the law. The gemstone industry in Kenya continues to have great impact on the lives of communities living around the mining areas. It is a source of livelihood for majority of these families. This industry continues to have great potential to revolutionize the economy of the country, as its products are high end and involves millions of money.

How many people are in the AWEIK database?

We have a membership of over 300 women from across the country. These are professional women, women miners and businesswomen.

Gemstones are generally sold for handsome sums, especially to the fashion industry, where they are used to create expensive jewellery. What is the value of Kenya’s gemstone industry as a whole?

Last year, Sh2 billion worth of raw gold was exported to overseas factories, with cut gemstones accounting for Sh106.2 million and uncut gemstones worth of Sh412 million.

How capital intensive is a gemstone venture?

Mining of gemstones in large quantity is capital intensive. It requires one to invest a lot of time and resources in order to gain from the investment.

Have your members had much support from financial institutions?

This has been a challenge for a while now. But AWEIK has been in the process of bridging this gap. AWEIK has had an MoU with Gulf Bank of Africa to try and assist women in this industry get financial support to carry out their business.

What are the biggest challenges in the business?

Like any other business, the gemstone industry has its own. One of the major challenge would be dealing with rogue gem dealers.

Your parting shot?

Kenya’s gem and jewellery industry has great potential to revolutionize the economy of this country. Kenya is richly blessed with a number of gemstones, it’s upon us to use the same for our good. Through Kenya Gem & Jewellery Fair, the gem industry in Africa as a whole will be open to the international market. It provides an opportunity for Kenya and Africa to expand its market in the industry. A lot of the gemstones used in the fashion industry comes from Africa and what a better way of attracting buyers to come to Africa and directly source for
these gemstones. We as a country should embrace this initiative by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining (State Department for Mining) and Association of Women in
Energy and Extractive is Kenya (AWEIK) as it seeks to provide opportunities to every industry player, that is the miner, gem dealer, gem & jewellery buyer and other stakeholders in the industry.