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What if radical transparency could become the new normal?

We talked to MIADANA to find out about their project and the values on which it is based: social justice, environmental justice and economic justice with the country of origin through a traceable and intermediary-free supply chain.

Miadana

Their gemstones are sourced from several mines in Madagascar where some 60 people work and are also cut in the country.

For 20 years, Trina has been searching for gemstones in his home country of Madagascar, one of the world’s most diverse and abundant countries for coloured gems, which is also home to coveted mineral resources such as gold, cobalt, nickel, copper and bauxite, among others.

He used to work as an employed miner, and knows the local deposits and the dark side of this industry very well: the environmental damage caused by large-scale mining companies, the harsh and dangerous conditions in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) operations and, above all, the slim margins on raw materials that become disproportionately valuable after processing, with the lion’s share of the profits flowing out of the source countries.

ASM is an often subsistence-based activity that involves thousands of people in the country and, compared to industrial mining, employs considerably more Malagasy people, while allowing for much more environmentally friendly extraction and revitalising the economic life of nearby villages.

So when Trina and Alina set up MIADANA in 2018, their overriding drive was to provide access to responsible ASM and to break free from the opacity and inequity of conventional supply chains in order to achieve a short, traceable circuit to the European market that contributes to strengthening the Malagasy economy in favour of the local population itself.

“We believe that radical transparency can become a matter of course. We believe that respectful cooperation between all those involved is possible and that fairness can be represented at all levels of the supply chain”.

In Malagasy, loosely translated, miadana means “to be in harmony with oneself”. This harmony is rooted in its business built on fair trade in three interlinked directions: justice in relation to the workers, justice in relation to the environment, and justice in relation to the country.

They define a responsibly sourced gem as respecting the people they work with. This entails decent remuneration that supports families and adequate safety measures, as well as respect for local artisanal mining structures and their real needs, avoiding the imposition of certain Western systems that make no sense in the local context.

An intermediary-free value chain from Madagascar to Germany

It all started with a project near Vatomandry, in the east of the island, after a farmer found rubies while tilling on his farm. He made some calls to find out what to do and contacted Trina. They wanted their village to benefit from the discovery. Alina and Trina travelled there and provided the initial capital to start working on the project. It is a secondary deposit region, which means that drilling was no more than three metres deep, and extraction was simple and had minimal environmental impact. When the rubies were finished, the holes were filled in (almost naturally because of the wet climate) and the land was reclaimed for agriculture. Since then, they have also developed a beryl mine in Tanambe, a sapphire mine in Ambondrofe and a ruby mine in Andilamena.

The mines are not owned by them, but belong to farmers who lease the land to them and receive a monthly percentage depending on the value of the stones found. Miners’ salaries vary from region to region, but they have adopted a system whereby their payment consists of a salary equivalent to that of a primary school teacher, which is above the average standard of living there, plus a percentage share based on the finds made.

Currently, MIADANA’s gemstones come from several different mines, employing approximately 60 miners. Mining is done by hand, with basic tools, using no chemicals or machinery that requires fuel, only water pumps to drain the holes in the rainy season. Most of the miners are men, except in the ruby mines, where small amounts of gold are found as a by-product and are washed by women.

The gems are cut and polished directly in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, by two cutters working for MIADANA, also in decent and safe conditions. They explain that it is in the phase from the rough gemstone to the cut gemstone that the stone’s value increases the most. For this reason, it is very important for them that the Malagasy economy can benefit from this increase and that the margin of value stays in the country.

Thanks to Trina’s vast network, they realised that the cut stones could be brought directly to Germany, which in turn brings the possibility of actually tracking every step from the point of origin. After the expertise carried out in Germany, the cycle closes with direct sales to goldsmiths and jewellery designers by Alina.

A wide variety of these gems are available on their website: aquamarine, demantoid, diamond, emerald, garnet, ruby, tsavorite, tourmaline, sapphire, spinel… Most of them are 100% natural, meaning they have not received any kind of treatment. They ship worldwide and the gems can be delivered with an in-house certificate of origin and traceability, which is free for stones costing more than 250 euros.

The price of MIADANA gemstones is relatively similar to the price of conventional ones. However, they have been mined and traded fairly, without middlemen, so that significantly more of the value chain remains in the country of origin.

Article written by the ORIGEN – Gold for Future collective, with the collaboration of Alina Uhlit.

For more information on Madagascar and responsible sapphire sourcing, see our previous article: Madagascar: the home of rainbow-coloured sapphires.