‘Gem In The Rough’: A Look At Zambia’s Ever-Growing Emerald Industry

Published 2 months ago
Abdoulaye Ndiaye – Grizzly Mining 2

The country continues to cement its place as a global green gemstone leader, with miner, Grizzly Mining lighting the way.

The colour green evokes a sense of tranquillity, symbolizing the calming power of nature. It also comes with a sense of urgency, as well as of drive and promised fortune. It is exactly this drive and fortune that has led to a rise in the mining of one particular green gemstone – African emeralds – and one particular miner.

While emerald mining has been historically synonymous with countries like Colombia, Zambia accounts for 70% of global emerald supply, according to Grizzly Mining Chairman, Abdoulaye Ndiaye, following a recent record auction in August.

Advertisement

Unlike in Colombia, where emeralds production takes place deep underground, Zambian emeralds are found closer to the surface, allowing for much safer surface operations.

One Zambian company is leading the charge to produce some of the largest high-quality emeralds in the world.

“Emeralds have a special place in my heart, as the mere sight of their green hue brings happiness. It’s a colour that exudes joy and positivity, making me appreciate emeralds all the more,” says Ndiaye, who is also the founder of Grizzly Mining Limited.

After completing his studies in Senegal, Ndiaye moved to Israel to study gemology, where he learned the art of cutting and polishing diamonds and emeralds.

Advertisement

“My pursuit of emeralds took me to Zambia after I saw the opportunity to create a market that could grow in size and in demand through the establishment of reliable supply of emeralds,” he says.

Subsequently, Ndiaye obtained his first emerald concession in 1997 in a remote part of the Zambian bush. His success saw him acquire neighbouring licences and collating them into one large 2km open pit operation using state of the art machinery, which is now the world famous, Grizzly Emerald Mine.

In 2017, Ndiaye entered into partnership with an Israeli diamond group selling 50% of his stake in the company. Grizzly was briefly renamed “Gemcanton” under the partnership. In 2019, Ndiaye bought back this stake and resumed total ownership, reinstating the name “Grizzly Mining”. The company has been under sole ownership and operation since.

 Go Green or Go Home

Advertisement

The colour green is not just synonymous with fortune and nature, but also the power of luck, which makes it the perfect shade for emeralds, as finding these gems is a stroke of luck, in itself.

“Unlike diamonds, which are mined in approximately 65 countries, emeralds are far more rare and exclusive, with only three countries producing them in meaningful quantities: Colombia, Brazil, and Zambia,” Ndiaye explains.

He reveals that Afghanistan and Bangladesh are also blessed with emeralds, although their production is limited, and minimal compared to the approximately 60 million carats that Grizzly produces annually. 

In addition to its large production, the company has also pioneered a new way of selling emeralds.

Advertisement

Prior to Grizzly’s production, buyers would purchase a bag of assorted emeralds of different sizes and grades, with this irregularity causing difficulties for buyers.

Now, it produces enough gemstones to offer identical lots of the same-sized emeralds, matching in grade and hue, to international buyers.

Through dedication, hard work and investment, Grizzly has become a byword for quality emerald mining, bringing in $48.6 million in revenue for its most recent auction.

And yet, the company’s remarkable achievements didn’t come without its challenges.

Advertisement

As emerald mining takes place in remote locations, Grizzly had to grapple with a lack of electricity, water, and road infrastructure.

“At one point, it was very challenging for me to make this area safe and habitable for employees to work,” says Ndiaye.

To overcome these hurdles, Ndiaye and his team built and funded new infrastructure. This included roads circa 50km to the region, and access to potable water, in addition to funding the extension of the national powerline to deliver electricity to the surrounding communities. They also hired professional geologists to train their Zambian workforce in emerald exploration.

A Greener Community

Advertisement

In addition to prioritizing physical infrastructure, Grizzly Mining places a strong emphasis on its personal relationships with local communities, and this plays a pivotal role in the success of its operation.

The support of local chiefs, and their communities, is of paramount importance, providing a “social licence to operate”. Working with local people has also been essential in understanding the geology of emeralds.

“Being one of the most significant forces in Africa, operated primarily by African individuals, we receive substantial support from the community, which empowers us to make a significant impact.”

Grizzly’s Zambian mining operation not only employs over 1,000 individuals, 95% of whom are Zambian, but through the use of modern mining equipment with large scale machinery, rigorous due diligence and the stressed importance of safety, they have received awards for their approach to safety, from the industry.

Additionally, Grizzly has also built five schools in the surrounding communities, and two clinics, and continues to sponsor two schools entirely, covering the education of several thousand children. 

What’s more, during the Covid-19 pandemic when revenues halted for a year, Grizzly continued to pay wages to all its staff, and even donated supplies to the Kitwe Teaching Hospital, in addition to supplying sanitizer and masks to the local communities.

Grizzly’s commitment to a healthier environment is not just limited to the local community, as the company is extremely conscious of the environmental footprint of its mining activities.

The company adheres to the stringent safety and environmental standards associated with best practice in the industry, which includes the rehabilitation of the waste rock from the mine, reforesting the stacks, and minimizing the usage of water.

They have also set up their own nursery for trees and vegetation to attain self-sufficiency and sustainability in their reforestation and afforestation initiatives.

The Future is Emerald Green

Holding three to four emerald auctions a year, both in Kitwe, Zambia and in Dubai, and attended by some 130 companies and more, Grizzly Mining has firmly established itself as a recognizable business, particularly thanks to its gems that are so unique in colour.

“Even though we may not dig deeper, we produce the highest quality emeralds with a yellow-green hue – the most sought after colour in emeralds, and this is precisely what we have in Zambia,” reveals Ndiaye.

As Grizzly Mining looks to the future of emerald mining, they are currently in the process of a 50% expansion to meet the ever-growing demand for their high-quality emeralds.

Ndiaye pinpoints the the exact moment he first stumbled upon an emerald.

“I was in Congo dealing with diamonds, then I heard about emeralds. I was being told that they were very special and unique. I came To Kitwe, Zambia to see the stones in January 1978. I was first introduced to the beautiful stones in a local market so I began buying small quantities and selling them in Geneva. These sales became very profitable for me.”

Ndiaye vividly remembers the emotions the experience stirred within him. Now these emotions serve as a constant reminder of the beauty that can be hidden within and it is because of these memories that he encourages his team to work diligently so that they can continue to uncover the hidden gems that lie just beneath the surface.

DISCLAIMER: Brand Voice is a paid program. Articles appearing in this section have been commercially supported.