TAITA-TAVETA – In a strategic move to safeguard its mineral wealth, the Kenyan government has initiated plans to patent the rare Tsavorite gemstone, a measure aimed at curbing the rampant smuggling and enhancing the economic prospects of Taita-Taveta County.
According to Kenya News Agency, Chair of the Taita-Taveta Artisanal Miners Association, Tsavorite is not only a rare and valuable gem but also an integral part of Kenya’s mineral identity, predominantly mined in Taita-Taveta County. The vibrant green gemstone, often associated with luxury and exclusivity among global collectors, represents a beacon of hope for prosperity among the local miners.
The region, although rich in various semi-precious and precious stones such as rubies, garnets, and peridot, sees Tsavorite as the cornerstone for potential economic transformation. Despite mining being a lucrative sector, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) 2021 Poverty Report reveals that the local community continues to struggle with a 33.9 percent poverty rate, an issue exacerbated by the illegal outflow of minerals.
Government reports indicate the loss of millions of shillings annually due to illicit Tsavorite trade, non-disclosure of transactions, and avoidance of state royalties by miners and dealers. In response, Tsavorite has recently been declared one of the 14 strategic minerals in Kenya, a classification that emphasizes its significance to the nation’s economic and defense sectors.
Elijah Mwangi, the Mining Principal Secretary, emphasized the new regulatory framework where prospecting and trading of Tsavorite will require government sanctioning. The National Mining Corporation (NMC) will work closely with miners to ensure strict compliance with guidelines and proper licensing.
In a measure to further protect and add value to the local gemstone industry, the government has prohibited the export of uncut stones and advocated for domestic processing, which is projected to increase the financial returns for the miners.
The artisanal miners of the region have expressed support for the government’s intervention, expecting it to bring much-needed regulation and fairness to the sector. The newly-established Voi Gemstone, Value-Addition, and Marketing Center has been designated as the official hub for all gemstone trading activities, aiming to streamline the sector and enhance transparency.
Mr. Stephen Mwadime, Chair of the Chawia Minerals Community Based Organization (CBO), highlighted the artisanal miners’ readiness to back government initiatives that promise to protect their interests and profitability.
In terms of financial distribution, the Mining Act 2016 stipulates the division of mining royalties among the national government, county governments, and local communities. Mr. Zowe pointed out the discrepancy in royalty distribution within Taita-Taveta, contrasting it with the significantly higher revenues received by neighboring counties.
To consolidate the identity and global presence of Tsavorite, the government’s patenting strategy aims to combat identity fraud, where Kenyan Tsavorites have been misrepresented in the international market. This move is expected to secure the gemstone’s unique Kenyan origin, thereby enhancing its value and demand globally.