Deep inside a forest, sweating men haul earth out of rough excavation holes and carry it in bags on their backs to a stream. Then they sift for the small, red stones that could make their fortune – miners say they have sold single rubies for thousands of dollars, many times the local monthly wage which is typically under $200.
In northern Mozambique, informal – and illegal – ruby mining is a tough business that has attracted thousands of itinerant workers despite strenuous crackdowns by police and private guards.
The ruby deposits, which were discovered only nine years ago, are relatively accessible in shallow ground, triggering the sudden birth of a frantic wildcat mining industry.
Mozambique now accounts for 80% of global ruby production – but the illegal mining is a far cry from the giant mining companies and the chic auction houses in Singapore where millions of dollars of gems are sold.
“I’m here because of poverty,” Faque Almeida, 46, who has spent much of the last eight years in the forests of Montepuez in search of the blood-red gemstones, told AFP.
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