Centre for Development Studies

Opening the door to formalization: small-scale diamond mining and rural economic development in Sierra Leone

Principle Investigator: Roy Maconachie

Research Team: Collaborators, Gavin Hilson (University of Surrey) and Ms. Ainsley Butler (Diamond Development Initiative)

Project Partners: University of Surrey, UK, Diamond Development Initiative

Funding Body: International Growth Centre

Project Rationale and Aims:

In Sierra Leone, the informal and unregulated nature of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector has long played an instrumental role in driving and prolonging regional conflict, and it currently remains the root of much corruption and exploitation.  Consequently, some observers now argue that the formalization of ASM – that is, moves made specifically to bring illegal operators into the legal domain – will address the critical problems associated with the sector, a lengthy list which includes land degradation, debt bondage and exploitation of labourers.  This research aims to generate critical baseline data in the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s recent Ebola crisis, to inform a robust blueprint for the formalization of small-scale diamond mining, and in the process, engage policymakers to implement this plan. 

It is expected that the proposed research will feed directly into ongoing discussions that will inform the updating of Sierra Leone’s core minerals policy.  The research team, in particular the DDI, will engage key stakeholders moving forward, including the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, and the Sierra Leone Extractive Sector Benchmarking Project.  Building on existing knowledge of small-scale mining in Sierra Leone, including work undertaken by the investigators, the specific objectives of the proposed research are as follows:

  1. To map the latest iteration of the alluvial diamond supply chain in Sierra Leone, and to identify the roles of the actors who comprise it.  Specifically, we seek to determine the impact of the Ebola crisis on supply chains, and to explore if existing supply chain structures and linkages have been altered, and if so how. Initial evidence suggests that some of the foreign purchasers stopped coming during the Ebola period and that some of their roles were taken by locals. We will examine whether this change has persisted with the end of the epidemic and how this may have changed the dynamics of the industry. Identifying and connecting with these actors is essential if an effective and a representative formalization structure is to be developed.
  2. To generate comprehensive livelihood profiles of Sierra Leone’s diamond diggers.  There are indications that those engaged in diamond mining in Sierra Leone balance their work with a host of other economic activities, largely in an attempt to avert risk and to accumulate savings.  What connections to mining are relevant when establishing new rules and regulations?  How is risk spread across the household?  What does the sector look like now, and how does it impact livelihoods?     
  3. To prescribe recommendations for formalizing small-scale diamond mining in Sierra Leone.  There is an opportunity, in light of ongoing reconfiguration of supply chains in response to changes brought about by Ebola, to put diggers at the heart of a formalization process.  Previously, debt bondage and parasitic relationships with buyers prevented diggers from escaping poverty.  Policies which are fine-tuned to connect with and ultimately empower the digger could improve his/her economic position whilst simultaneously providing a steady stream of tax to the state.  What are the benefits and rules of formalization, and what will work on the ground?  Moreover, why are regulations and policies not ‘thinking’ this way?  Given the positives and negatives associated with the sector, formalization of diamond mining could be a lasting development solution moving forward.
  4. To engage policymakers, with the aim of further empowering the most marginalized in the supply chain.  An attempt will be made to engage policymakers with collected data, and connecting the marginalized operator to wider policymaking and commercial circles.  In particular, an attempt will be made to connect with the Diamond Development Initiative’s (DDI) efforts to implement the Development Diamond Standards (DDS) at sites in Kono.


Project Outputs and Impact:

At the policy level, the research findings will provide the fine-grained evidence that is needed to inform debates on small-scale mining, formalization and income-generation, particularly those which centre on the diamond mining sector and rural economic development.  As noted above, the research will be of direct policy relevance to the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, NGOs and donors concerned with the wellbeing effects of the diamond mining sector, and for those concerned with promoting more equitable rural transformations in resource-rich areas.  Policy engagement is therefore a core element of the project, both in Sierra Leone and internationally.

Project outputs outlined in the project proposal will be as follows:

Due date
Project summary for IGC website 29 February 2016
Progress Report 1 31 April 2016
Final Report (Policy Memo/Bulletin) 31 January 2017
Academic Paper: 31 July 2017


For more information about this project please contact:

Name: Dr Roy Maconachie
Title: Reader
Department: Dept of Social and Policy Sciences
Location: 3 East 3.28
E-mail: r.maconachie@bath.ac.uk
Phone: work+44 (0) 1225 384524