HARARE – The Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) is to parcel out licences to firms and small-scale buyers for purchasing gemstones across the country and sell them through the formal markets.

The strategy, which was announced last week, will unlock significant opportunities in an area that had until now been the forte of extensive smuggling by international cartels due to laxity in regulation.

Authorities also hope to see Zimbabwe’s gemstones endowment, estimated at $20 billion, being shipped to MMCZ and generate foreign currency for the country.

Semi-precious minerals like agate and amethyst among the vast wealth of gemstones that make up the $20 million chest of resources.

Last week, MMCZ said it wanted to stop smuggling by establishing gemstone subagents to work with it.

This would be the second phase of the reform process, which started with the issuance of special grants for mining gemstones.

“The function of an MMCZ gemstone subagent is to buy coloured gemstones from small scale miners with special grants and sell the coloured gemstones through the MMCZ,” said the corporation.

MMCZ general manager, Tongai Muzenda said last year they were exploring ways of attracting the gems into the formal system to drive up foreign currency receipts in cash-strapped Zimbabwe.

Official trade in gemstones would be conducted under a strict regime that will punish delinquency, with traders being held accountable for leakages, according to a statement released last week.

MMCZ wants interested individuals and corporates to submit expressions of interest after which they will be licenced.

A separate statement posted on MMCZ’s website in August said; “The Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe is working on streamlining marketing of coloured gemstones. In light of this, the Corporation is building a database of buyers of such minerals. Individuals and companies (including jewellery companies) that are in the business of cutting and polishing (processing) coloured gemstones are being invited to register with the Corporation”.

In his brief to small scale miners last year, Muzenda had said there had been unaccounted exports, loss of value through under-pricing and in some cases consignments volumes were small to constitute economically viable exports.

“Many miners and traders operate outside of the formal sector, slowing the diffusion of appropriate environmental, social, and labour practices, and perpetuating linkages between the gemstone business and organised crime, internal conflict and corrupt regimes in certain countries,” he said.

“In many cases these are obtained from their living environs. They end up being illegally sold and exported, Our biggest challenges include but are not limited to quantity of production. We are producing too little in gemstones so that it becomes difficult to market on your behalf. So, we need to increase the production of gemstones. One way of doing this, which I will have to consult with the (Mines) ministry, is obviously to try and get special grants in areas like Karoi so that we will have all gemstones in one area and then we can give more services to you.”

It is estimated that Zimbabwe hosts about 36 semi-precious minerals that include goshenite, chrysoberyl, lolite and tourmaline. These are mostly found in Karoi, Hurungwe, Mutoko, Mt Darwin, Zvishavane, Mutare, Rusape and Odzi.

Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation president Henrietta Rushwaya said the mining of semi-precious gems was an important component of the sector.