Nelly Bassily | March 30, 2009
Mohammed Diallo has found nothing in the ground for the past three months. Nor has anyone else in his group of artisanal miners. For a diamond miner, no diamonds means no income. Mr. Diallo receives a bowl of rice and sauce for hours of hard labour. If his group finds a diamond, he will be paid at the end of the six-month season. Last year, he received just 60 American dollars.
Mr. Diallo says he’s tired of relying on luck. He’s been a diamond miner most of his life, but next year, he will be digging in the ground for a different reason. He has decided to take up farming.
Diamonds helped fuel Sierra Leone’s civil war, a conflict responsible for at least 75,000 deaths. In the Kono District where Mr. Diallo lives, tens of thousands of residents were forced out of their homes by rebels demanding access to the diamond-rich land.
According to a diamond dealer known as “Little,” there is a saying in Kono: “The more you shed blood, the more diamonds you get.” Sierra Leone’s civil war officially ended in 2002. Little says there are few diamonds left. Most miners’ groups find one diamond every six months, if they are lucky.
At the same time, the recent global recession has caused diamond prices to plummet. Diamond companies had been Kono’s largest employer, but now they employ only a fraction of the miners they did last year.
Tamba Kakarnbanja is a youth counsellor in the Kono District. He says the future of Kono is not in diamonds, but agriculture.
Three out of four youths in Kono are unemployed. The Italian NGO COOPI is helping some of these unemployed youth get their start in agriculture. Marco Serena is country director for COOPI. He says the decline of mining has led to a growing interest in farming.
COOPI works with 15 to 25-year-olds to grow vegetables, fruit and rice. The youth also learn to pound cassava into “gari,” a type of flour. Soon they will be able to process mangoes and bananas into juice. Mr. Serena notes that, while diamonds may beare found sporadically, the products of farming are available for many months of the year. The return on investment is more reliable.
At age 45, Mr. Diallo doesn’t qualify for COOPI’s program, but he’s determined to make a new start with farming. He feels that income from farming will be more consistent and looks forward to reaping what he sows.