From December 11-15, 2022, DFP conducted a 5-day workshop on the basics of responsible diamond mining with a mining specialist, Caelen Burand, from the United States. The purpose of the workshop was to help miners and diggers understand how to carry out simple exploration for efficient mining, as well as effective gravel processing for recovering more diamonds in the mining field. The workshop also raised awareness about the issues that the miners are causing for the environment through excavating the earth and not reclaiming the land. The importance of refilling the holes after digging was also emphasized to reduce the damage on the earth caused by artisanal diamond mining activities.
Contents of the Workshop
The content of the workshop was centered on the regular diamond mining life cycle: prospecting, exploration, digging holes, processing of gravel, and then reclamation. The mining specialist provided insight about the different stages the miners need to go through when looking for diamonds, and what skills s/he needs to apply in each stage of the life cycle in order to be efficient in their efforts to find more diamonds without causing too much damage to the earth. The workshop also provided an opportunity for the miners to understand the values of some of the stones such as garnet, quartz, and corundum they find in their fields.
The miners learned that prospecting is the process of determining whether or not diamonds can be found in a certain area. It was explained that for the miners to better decide where to look for diamonds during prospecting, s/he needs to consider the processes that create diamonds. They learned that diamonds are created through the process of erosion and the flowing of rivers when the rocks hit against each other and break into pieces but the diamonds remain whole. With this knowledge, the miners understood that they can expect to find diamonds in a waterfall, in a river, especially where the water moves with high speed and rocks hit against each other.
Before participating in this workshop, miners told the specialist they dig usually randomly (almost everywhere) without knowing where to dig, and this has resulted in their digging everywhere without finding many diamonds. In terms of exploration, miners learned that it is the process that leads to a smart decision on where to dig precisely for diamonds. If the miners are knowledgeable about how diamonds are created, and the material that concentrates along with the diamonds, s/he can use that knowledge to decide where exactly to dig. A well-organized analysis during the exploration can help a miner make a smart decision in finding more diamonds effectively and efficiently. This will help reduce the number of pits the miners dig, as well as the mining cost. In addition, the level of disturbance that will be caused to the environment will be reduced.
During the workshop, the mining specialist found that the miners already knew a lot about digging and excavation. Therefore it was not necessary to talk about it in detail.
The mining specialist reviewed the processing method miners were practicing prior to the workshop and found that it was not as effective as it could be and this has been causing the miners to lose many diamonds. Prior to the workshop, during gravel processing/jigging, the miners would just “cut” (remove) the rocks from the top of the jig (screen) and throw them away without carefully checking whether there is a diamond among those rocks or not. This was because they believed that the diamonds would go down to the bottom of the jig because they are much heavier and slipperier than the rocks. For the improved method of processing the specialist taught the miners to classify the rocks during their gravel processing so that rocks of similar size can be collected together. Classification of the rocks during processing will help miners to be able to thoroughly check for diamonds and recover valuable minerals like corundum, especially among rocks that match the most likely size of diamonds that can be found. For this improved and effective processing method the specialist introduced another type of jig with slightly bigger holes than the regular jig they are using. The jig can be placed right over the regular jig when loading gravel; the jig with the slightly bigger holes will support the classification of the final rock and the miners are likely to find their bigger diamonds from this jig among the rocks that it can hold.
Most of the miners had never practiced mine closure after excavating and processing. For them, the mining life cycle has been from prospecting to digging to processing and they were not interested in reclamation. However, they got to understand from the workshop that they are borrowing the land from the earth whenever they excavate the ground, and therefore, they need to return the earth back to how it was before their mining activities. Miners learned that it is important to restore the land back to its original state after mining by refilling the holes that are dug; otherwise, the land becomes disturbed and agriculture activities cannot take place because of the devastation. Additionally, the open pits filled with water remain and serve as breeding ponds for mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects. The open pits can also become dangerous hazards for animals and even for human beings.
In land reclamation, miners learned the importance to keep the topsoil separate from the other layers of soil when digging and the put it back on the top when reclaiming. This is because it is the topsoil that has the organic matter to support plant growth right after reclamation.
Current Mining Practice in Weasua
Before the workshop, the miners had basically been using the guessing method to find diamonds. As they knew nothing about how diamonds concentrate, as a result, they kept digging everywhere causing lots of damage to the earth.
In addition, they had believed that corundum and other colored stones were the samples to follow when looking for diamonds. In the workshop they learned that the well-abraded large quartz rock (locally known as “mamba rock”) is the real sample to follow in the process of finding diamonds because this rock and diamonds concentrate together.
The workshop was rewarding because it opened my eyes to many truths about diamonds that I didn’t know before. I learned that diamond is hydrophobic, diamond is not heavier than rock, diamond is not magnetic and the real sample to follow when looking for diamonds is the well-abraded large quartz rock and not corundum as I thought for many years.
After the workshop, I have started practicing the following.
- Giving the knowledge and instructions to the diggers who are working with me.
- The diggers follow my instructions and are now very careful not to cut (throw away) any diamonds by mistake when jigging.
- We have started using the new jig that the mining specialist introduced during the workshop. Although we have not found any diamonds yet, I believe we will start finding some soon.
From this workshop, I have learned lot of things because from the time diamond mine was founded, our parents had the notion that corundum was the rock that is travelling with a diamond.
They never knew that diamond came from the volcano and pull it up with no other rock with the diamond. So whatsoever they see a corundum, they classified it as diamond sample. But today I learned that the Mambo quartz is what we should call diamond sample because it’s twist, it goes along with the diamond in the river and streams, it hits against one another and have it deposited one place where you find many diamonds.
We’ve been thinking that diamond is heavier than rock so each time when we are doing our mineral work, we cut the rock (on the surface). But in this training, I was taught how to separate the rocks three times. Also, that makes me to know that rock and diamond have the same density. I never knew it so each time we do diamond work, we cut the rock and threw the big diamonds away.
We’ve been thinking that in fact the jig (screen) we are using have magnet or diamond have magnet, didn’t know that diamond doesn’t have magnet so I have learned all of these things in the workshop. I really appreciate it and I tell Diamonds for Peace thanks for the knowledge they pass over to me.
Myths about Diamond Mining in Liberia
Artisanal diamond miners in Liberia have following common beliefs about diamond mining which are contradictory to science. At first, miners could not easily accept the scientific facts taught in the workshop because they had lived to believe these myths through generations working to recover diamonds.
Here are major beliefs:
Jinia Controls Diamonds Underground
Miners believe in a woman devil called Jinia. She is the one producing diamonds and put them underground. In order to have more diamonds in a miner’s mining claim, s/he has to give sacrifice to her. One of the participants for the workshop asked the specialist “do I need to give sacrifice (chicken) to Jinia? I don’t get to eat chicken….”
As Jinia doesn’t like other women, women including those who have mining license are not allowed to enter diamond mining claims in some mining communities especially in Grand Cape Mount County. In Weasua where Diamonds for Peace works, there is no such rule.
Diamond is Heavier than Rock
Miners have always believed that a diamond is heavier than rocks; therefore, a diamond always goes down to the bottom of the jig during the processing stage. This is a myth because science proves that a diamond and a rock have almost the same density; therefore, if a rock and a diamond are of the same size, they have nearly the same weight.
In order to convince them, the mining specialist demonstrated weighing a real diamond with 0.16 carats and a rock of the same size as the diamond on a scale. It was an open exercise for all the miners to participate. All the miners who claimed they didn’t believe it did their own experiments. In the end, they all realized that it is true.
Diamond Likes Water and It Is Slipperier than Rock
Miners believed that diamond likes water and it is slipperier than rock. Therefore, a diamond always goes down to the bottom of the jig during the processing stage. They learned in the workshop that a diamond is not slipperier than a rock. They also learned that diamond is hydrophobic (which means it lacks affinity for water) which disproved their belief that a diamond likes water.
Diamond and Jig are Magnetic
Miners believed that another reason diamonds go down to the bottom of the jig is because both the diamonds and the jig are magnetic; therefore, they attract each other. This belief was disproved by science through a practical demonstration, by putting a magnet on both the diamond and the jig and neither the diamond nor the jig could stick to the magnet. They got convinced that the diamond and the jig are not magnetic.
Diamond Has a Supernatural Power
Miners believed that diamonds have supernatural power to go where they want to go. In the workshop, they learned that a diamond is just a mineral, it is lifeless; therefore, it doesn’t have any power whatsoever to move by itself to go anywhere.
[Biggest Diamonds ever Found in Weasua]
All these myths except the woman devil made miners to believe that they had to check only the bottom of their jigs carefully when processing the gravel. They didn’t check the surface of the gravel where bigger diamonds were.
Participants told us a story that the biggest diamond found in Weasua is over 200 carat. However, miners didn’t notice it and threw it away with other rocks of similar size. A lucky person who happened to walk there afterwards found it and claimed it.
The participants were shocked by the fact that they had been losing diamonds after realizing that they have not been using an effective processing method. They believe that part of the reason for the loss of diamonds due to their way of gravel processing methods is tied to the many myths they have believed about diamonds. Although it takes time to master effective and efficient diamond mining, DFP will continuously support the miners and diggers in Weasua to equip them with the knowledge and skills in order to conduct responsible diamond mining for their livelihood and to protect the environment. The mining specialist will return to Liberia this May to see how they are practicing and give more training.
This workshop is supported by the Japan Fund for Global Environment and DFP corporate members and supporters. We appreciate their support!
Front photo: The mining specialist introduces the new jig and teaches how to use it effectively for recovering diamonds in their fields. (c) Diamonds for Peace