Gemfair shifts focus to support small-scale miners during Covid-19

4th December 2020 By: Donna Slater - Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

Diamond miner De Beers’ artisanal and small-scale miner (ASM) global market promotion platform Gemfair responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by mobilising its Kono, Sierra Leone-based team to develop and roll out an extensive response plan to the pandemic.

The response was focused on providing food and medical support to Gemfair members, their families and the wider community. This, alongside keeping Gemfair staff safe, became the organisation's operational focus for the year.

As Gemfair entered its third year of operations, it looked forward to building on the momentum it had established in 2019 by continuing to extend Gemfair’s reach and impact throughout the ASM sector in Sierra Leone.

By the end of the first quarter of 2020, Gemfair had scaled its programme to a further 42 mine sites, bringing its total to 136 member sites and covering almost 2 000 individual workers. The organisation also delivered training to a further 213 miners and were receiving positive feedback on its training programme from miners, government and civil society organisations.

However, with Covid-19 spreading rapidly around the world, Gemfair realised that 2020 was not going to be the year it had planned. “The outbreak of Covid-19 profoundly impacted Gemfair’s operating environment in Sierra Leone, as well as the global diamond market. It also presented significant challenges for GemFair’s members,” says Gemfair GM and De Beers corporate affairs senior VP Feriel Zerouki.

The combination of a depressed diamond market, a poor harvest and a sharp increase in food prices owing to border closures, meant that food security became a concern for Gemfair members, with many saying they were unable to feed their families. In addition, consultations with local healthcare professionals revealed a sector unable to protect frontline workers if there was an outbreak in Kono.

“With our unique position in the local ASM sector and our commitment to helping improve the lives of ASM workers, we knew we had to do all we could to support the local community during this unprecedented crisis,” she said.

In total, Gemfair provided food aid for a duration of nine months ending in early 2021, with 4 703 food parcels delivered to 1 715 direct beneficiaries and more than 10 200 indirect beneficiaries.

To support local healthcare facilities, Gemfair donated 200 boxes of surgical masks, 4 000 N95 masks, 200 face shields and 100 ℓ of hand sanitiser, as well as establishing five portable hand-washing stations. The organisation also donated radio airtime for health officials to hold live question and answer sessions on Covid-19 with remote communities, as well as repurposing its Gemfair digital solution to send out Covid-19 health guidance from the World Health Organisation to Gemfair members.

While its operational focus shifted to one of community support, Zerouki also notes that Gemfair wanted to find a way to continue delivering its training programme in some capacity during the year. “To achieve this, we developed an on-demand training programme, drawing on our existing Gemfair digital platform and tablets provided to members, tailored for a low-bandwidth environment.” As a result, Gemfair can now access hundreds of people living in remote communities that are hard to reach through more traditional, classroom-based training methods.

Gemfair also signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the German Development Corporation and the Mano River Union (MRU) in July of this year. The MoU is to develop and deliver a capacity building programme in the MRU countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast, to further enhance practices in the ASM sector. “Despite the challenging global situation, we’ve managed to hold a number of training sessions already for stakeholders from across the four countries, with participants spanning government, mining, law enforcement and civil society,” she says.