b'rough in person and being able to eval- going to take more than one year for people uate quality or predict how it will lookto travel and do business, this might be how as a cut stone. [the miners] will get back to trade.But its a risk some are willing toThe Federation of Small Scale Mining take, given the timeline for a return toAssociations of Zambia helps ensure the regular travel and trade shows is murkygemstones being bought and sold on the at best.platform are from credible mines with From a Zambian perspective, itslicensed federation members and will have time for the local miners maybe to em- no issues being exported.brace e-commerce and look at how theyIn addition to giving miners a revenue can sell their gemstones without havingstream, 20 percent of sales made via Virtu to travel to the shows, says PatriciaGem goes back to the federation to buy Mweene, the jewelry designer behindfood and protective gear for miners. Inonge Zita and a driving force in de- The platform appeals to buyers who veloping the countrys gemstone cuttingsee the benefit in a custom cut as well and manufacturing industries.as those looking for a purpose-driven She knows its not easy for the small- purchase, the latter of which is a rapidly scale miners in rural areas, who mightgrowing area of interest for designers and not have regular access to a reliable in- consumers alike. ternet connection or electricity and relyI think the supply chain is struggling on face-to-face interactions for business.on all levels right now, but I think in But one thing Mweene noticedthe long term, were being pushed and popping up in Zambia even before theguided into being more responsible and pandemic hit was the increasing popular- being more transparent, says Cook, ity of what she refers to as e-commercethe mine owner. That movement was agents, local entrepreneurs who helpalready gaining steam, and I people who want to buy or sell onlinethink this pandemic is even go-but dont have access to the internet or aing to accelerate that progress.credit card.This includes the empower-These internet-access facilitators could pres- ment of local organizations and ent an opportunity for miners who are lookingassociations in source countries for buyers. to self-govern and develop new Gichuhi says in all her time working with min- ways of doing business. ers, their questions always come back to whereThe Virtu Gem platform, they can sell.for example, is a self-regulating Since COVID-19 forced the cancellation ofmechanism, and Pact aims to the Africa Gem Exhibition and Conferencehave the Tanzania Women Miners in Zambia this year, which wouldve helpedAssociation run the remote buy-connect artisanal miners with gem dealers anding model its testing out for its jewelers from around the world, Gichuhi saysMoyo Gems project.she knew they needed to find a way to bring theVillegas says the ASM sector market to them.gaining more autonomy can be a She worked with Susan Wheeler, a jewelrysilver lining of the situation but designer and founder of The Responsible Jewel- only if the industry keeps leaning ry Transformative, as well as the Federation ofinto these reform initiatives.Small Scale Mining Associations of Zambia andHer fear is because the jewelry other partners to launch a digital platform forsector has been hit so hard by rough stones called Virtu Gem.decreases in consumer spending Several larger traditional dealers have beenand shuttered retail stores, reform skepticaland criticalabout doing businessin the ASM sector might lose some online. momentum. But instead of doubting each other,Shes worried fewer people will Gichuhi says, we are hoping we can form part- buy stones through programs like ner collaborations that can eliminate doubtMoyo, or companies wont be able and create trust in the supply chain to reallyto give as much money to programs reinforce this way of doing business. If itssupporting artisanal miners.NATIONAL JEWELER 57'