Aquamarine from Malawi

Following Noah – an Artisanal Miner: Malawi Aqua Looks Promising

Gary Roskin –
Roskin Gem News Report

Alfred Noah of Afro Gifts Mining Pvt Ltd Co, now mining in Kasungu, is finding aquamarine, and it looks promising.

Noah is a prospector and artisanal small scale miner, who, along with his brother Harrison, are currently prospecting in the Kasungu area of northern Malawi.

“The first day we were hitting some surface low-grade material with some clean portions,” described Noah. Good cabbing material. “We extracted 22kgs of aqua from a vein we encountered today. There are some nice milky gems, but what we are also finding [and are very excited about] are some of the finest aquamarine colors ever from Malawi.” As they went deeper, the clarity got better, and the color deepened.

Mostly by Hand
Much of an artisanal small scale mining operation is performed by hand. On occasion, when it’s affordable, Noah hires an excavator. “Today, as we were busy benching, we exposed a huge line of pegmatites. [A bench is where you cut a narrow flat strip of land in the side of an open pit to better access the mine.] It really looks amazing! I pray that we get some big pockets on this new belt.”

Yesterday was the last day with an excavator at the mine. Typically, to get an excavator to a remote area such as this, costs will be in the neighborhood of $800 per day. Getting the machinery to areas that may not have accessible roads, and bringing expensive diesel fuel with, is necessary, but costly. “We are going to start chiseling manually today.”

In this picture, we see a nice piece of cabbing gem Malawi aquamarine selected from the low grade material found near the surface.
Photo courtesy of Alfred Noah
Malawi Aquamarine – cabbing material – Alfred and Harrison Noah

“Over the years, we’ve discovered a lot of deposits,” says Noah. “This aqua deposit was not discovered by us, but by a friend. They started digging it last year. We only joined them this year because they needed help.”

It’s a Joint Venture
It was a small operation, and they just couldn’t dig any further. “They wanted it to be a big operation. They knew the material was there, but they were only able to just scratch the surface. We had to put some kwacha [money] there in order to hire an excavator,” said Noah, who also saw the potential.

There are plenty of pegmatites in this district, so the chances of finding something are good.

“The aqua looks beautiful. Some of that gemmy material looks really, really nice – very nice medium to deep blue color.”

Making good use of the excavator below 3 meters.

Down in the Pits
When mining below 3 meters, you need an excavator to get you further into the deposit. So there’s the problem, as most mines go. You can work by hand up to a certain point. But a lot of the best material is at greater depth in the mine. The further you go, the more challenging – and costly – it becomes, because you need that excavator. It’s somewhat of a Catch 22… they need to sell some of that gem rough in order to hire the excavator to help access more gem rough.

And when it rains, the water in the pit needs to be pumped out. That takes a pump, and that pump takes diesel fuel. You get the picture.

So, the question is, “is there a lot of material to be found?” and the answer comes back quickly – “We need to get more…” … more to make a living, and more to pay for the pump and the excavator.

Because most mining areas are miles from any village or small town, when gem material is collected, most of the time it’s just sold at the local markets.

Even though they would like to sell what they have in the capital of Lilongwe, it’s 400 to 500 miles south. So they take the rough to a local broker. When they have the opportunity though, they do go to Lilongwe. “That’s where we sell most of our rough.”

The hope, of course, is that one day, when the material is fine enough and quantity is large enough, they will finally have buyers coming to them.

Noah and Harrison have been mining for a while now. “I think we’ve been together now for 19 years,” says Noah. “And we enjoy it 100%!”

Value Added Cutting?
“We tried,” says Noah, “but you know, sometimes, when you cut it, and buyers show up, they tell you it’s not nicely done, and so it needs to be recut.”

Whose Land Is It?
Most of the land in the northern parts of Malawi is forest or reserves. Most is not owned by the government, but by local chiefs.

“Sometimes you go out to prospect first. Other times, you need to approach the chiefs before you start prospecting. It all depends on the area.” And here in the north, there are a lot of chiefs. “There are many small villages. They have divided them into small groups of chiefs. Most of the time, when I’m prospecting in a particular area, I speak to the locals. They are usually the ones who know about the boundaries.”

And it is not free. To mine a claim on the Chief’s land, they will usually get a percentage, or simply a flat fee for the claim.

Languages Spoken Here
In Northern Malawi, the language is Tumbuka. In Southern Malawi, Chewa is spoken. But Malawi was once a British colony, so most of the people speak English.

An Update on SODALITE.
Do you remember seeing those large boulders of sodalite from our feature report here? The hold up on getting this material to market is this… In order to get that gem material to market, you need heavy equipment… and a road to get the heavy equipment in and out. Agnes has boulders of sodalite. Bigger than your living room. 20 tonnes, 30 tonnes. They even believe that when they finally remove the boulders, they will find even better quality gem material!

Fortunately for the aquamarine deposit, they’ve got pieces of rough that they can carry out of the mine by themselves.

Special thanks to Alfred Noah and Lee Horowitz, expert mining, gem & mineral consultant, for bringing this story to the Roskin Gem News Report.

Images for this report were taken by Noah in the past week. This is current news.

Malawi Aquamarine Rough
Roskin Gem News Report
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