Transforming Artisanal and Small-scale Diamond Mining

The Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) works to transform artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) by bringing this largely unregulated informal sector into the formal economy in ways that benefit miners, their communities, regional and national economies, and the diamond and jewelry industry. DDI focuses its formalization efforts on the artisanal diamond sector. It has also demonstrated, through initiatives impacting the mining of minerals such as gold, that the development issues are similar and much of DDI’s transformational approach can be applied effectively.




Up to 20% of the world’s gem-quality diamonds are produced by artisanal miners – people who dig for diamonds using rudimentary equipment. Often the whole family is involved, including children. There are 1.5 million artisanal diamond miners in Africa and South America, working in about 20 different countries. The work is hard, dirty and dangerous. Because gravel must be washed in order to find the gems, much of a digger’s day is spent standing in stagnant water. Health conditions are bad and mine sites are incubators for disease. Miners often face exploitation, human rights abuses, and live in extreme poverty.


Most artisanal diamond mines operate outside of government regulation and oversight. In some places, artisanal mining is illegal, in others, site operators do not have the proper license or are encroaching on somebody else’s claim. Even with a license, mining operations in remote areas can easily by-pass the legal and fiscal systems of the formal economy, because the governments do not have the resources to monitor site activities or supply chains.


In addition to being produced ethically, rough stones must be traceable. Traceability requires compliance and transparency at every step of the chain of custody, from production to export and all the way through manufacturing to retail. If at each stage of the chain of custody a tracing mechanism is not in place, the jewelry industry and the consumer are left with a product that does not respond to their requirements for guaranteed ethical, responsible sourcing.


In the 1990s, rebel groups in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola and elsewhere took control of alluvial diamond mining in order to finance war, hence the term “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds.” The Kimberley Process, which began in 2003, was created to enforce a legally binding global certification system for rough diamonds to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legal trade. The KP Certification Scheme (KPCS) now involves 81 countries and controls the movement of all rough diamonds from mine to market, certifying that they do not come from conflict zones. The KPCS does not however address the ongoing possibility of human rights abuses, environmental degradation and other developmental challenges.


Like many other mining activities, artisanal diamond mining is environmentally unsound. In addition, it is uncontrolled. Huge tracts of potentially farmable land are rendered useless because the topsoil is shovelled away leaving innumerable craters and fetid ponds in their wake. Rivers are crudely dammed and diverted, destroying fisheries and polluting water.



DDI works from within the Kimberley Process and in parallel to the KP Certification Scheme to tackle the development issues affecting artisanal and small-scale mining, where the problem of conflict diamonds originated.


DDI works with the local governments to register miners – including diggers, traders and auxiliary workers – giving them an identity that facilitates access to protection, legitimacy and government support.


DDI works to organize miners into associations and cooperatives, provide them with training to improve mining methods and labour conditions, as well as bargaining power to market their products and the opportunity to develop alternative livelihoods.



Artisanal and Small-scale diamond mining operations are informal, lacking health and safety measures or environmental considerations. They operate with little or no government oversight, and child labour and gender violence are not uncommon. Fair pricing is unknown. Professionalization involves increasing the knowledge and skills of miners in relation to diamonds and mining, including:
  • Maendeleo Diamond Standards (MDS)
  • Access to information (basic, technical, legal), resources and tools
  • Health and safety improvements – including first aid training and safety equipment
  • Smart mining techniques
  • First Aid
  • Diamond valuation


MDS is an innovative certification system that enables an ethical production of diamonds by artisanal and small-scale mining operations, through the adoption of standards and best practices. The certification process for the Maendeleo Diamond Standards helps to formalize the artisanal and small-scale diamond mining sector, through better mining practices and professionalized operations.


To complement the formalization process, DDI offers support to artisanal mining communities to increase their quality of life, including provision of clean water and access to education.

Artisanal Mining: SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals were developed and launched in 2015 by the United Nations, setting a standard for all countries and all sectors to work towards improvements in the human condition by 2030. Of the 17 goals, at least 11 are directly relevant to artisanal diamond mining operations and communities. The chart below demonstrates how DDI’s work contributes to the achievement of development progress in each of these 11 areas.

1 Poverty – End poverty in all its forms everywhere More than a million African and South American artisanal diamond diggers and their families live in absolute poverty, working outside the formal economy, three quarters of them in countries struggling to recover from the ravages of war. By formalizing the artisanal diamond mining sector and professionalizing their operations, DDI works to ensure that miners improve their productivity and receive fair pay for their work.
2 Food – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture Many miners are also seasonal subsistence farmers, at the mercy of unstable yields. Others are migrant workers, with no land to farm and therefore no reliable source of food. Additionally, artisanal and small-scale mining operations have a direct negative impact on food security by degrading arable land and waterways. The Maendeleo Diamond Standards (MDS) require responsible use of land and water, and rehabilitation of mine sites for other purposes, including agriculture. Miners who receive fair pay will also be able to buy food for their families.
3 Health – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages Miners, working in or close to polluted water, are vulnerable to water-borne diseases, malaria, infections and skin conditions. Some sites present safety risks. Sexually-transmitted diseases are common in areas with a high percentage of transient workers. The Maendeleo Diamond Standards contain numerous provisions for the health and safety of miners, including first aid training, safe working conditions, clean drinking water and proper sanitation.
4 Education – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all A large number of artisanal diamond diggers are children who are missing out on their education. Through MDS, DDI requires complete absence of child labour on program sites. It also provides access to primary remedial education for children via mobile schooling program. DDI also offers work-related training to miners.
5 Women – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Only a small number of women are diggers and very few are mining operation owners, but they provide a wide range of support services in artisanal mining operations with little recognition or remuneration. Maendeleo Diamond Standards ensure fair treatment and pay for all workers, and provide protection of human rights, including protection from harassment and violence for women.
6 Water – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Most artisanal mining communities are far from cities and outside areas serviced with basic infrastructure or sanitation. Children especially are susceptible to diarrhoea and disease and many die before the age of 5. Through MDS, DDI requires that mining sites provide clean drinking water and basic latrine facilities. DDI also provides wells where there is no other source of clean water for entire communities.
8 Economy – Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all Artisanal diamond diggers are the poorest link in the lucrative supply chain of gem-quality diamonds from mine to retail, often working for under $2 a day. Miners and local traders have little understanding of the value of the stones and are vulnerable to exploitation. DDI raises funds to provide knowledge on diamond value, enhancing the miners’ ability to negotiate and therefore improve their economic security. The MDS program, certifying responsibly sourced diamonds from mine to retail, creates sustainable economic development for diggers, traders and their communities.
9 Infrastructure – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation Artisanal mining is a system of exploitation that has remained relatively unchanged for 75 years. ADM communities often lag behind in terms of infrastructure and development By bringing informal miners and communities into the formal sector, DDI gives them a stake in the sustainability of an industry that is key to the economies of about 20 African and South American countries; and gives miners leverage to demand infrastructure and services.
14 Marinosystems – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development Artisanal mining is largely an alluvial operation, taking place in and around small waterways. Diverting the course of rivers and streams to facilitate digging for diamonds may seriously compromise water systems that are essential to farming, fishing and human habitation. A site that is certified by DDI demonstrates respect for marinosystems, including the water and the plant and animal life it supports.
15 Ecosystems – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss Artisanal diamond mining has stripped thousands of square miles of topsoil from arable land across Africa. Vegetation and animal habitats have been damaged or destroyed. Unregulated mining practices rarely incorporate environmental sustainability. DDI trains miners and site operators in environmentally sound operations and requires a rehabilitation plan for the land when the site is closed.
17 Sustainability – Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development Unregulated mining operations are a breeding ground for corruption, exploitation and social and environmental degradation. DDI brings together governments, the diamond and jewelry industries, civil societies, donor agencies and technical experts to find sustainable solutions for the development issues faced by artisanal miners and their communities.

  • Text Hover
  • Text Hover
  • Text Hover
  • Text Hover
  • Text Hover

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Diamond Development Initiative International, 1 Nicholas Street, Suite 1516A, Ottawa, ON, K1N 7B7, https://www.ddiglobal.org. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact