For the National Federation of Emeralds , Fedesmeraldas, the first semester of 2018 was a period of contrasts for the industry. In the first months of the year, there was a 4% growth in the value of the gem in exports that reached destinations such as India, China, the United States and Europe, exceeding US $73 million.
However, and unlike the first half of 2017, exports fell 6%, represented by a difference of US $4.42 million due to the decrease in emerald production in the country. Only in the department of Boyacá, in the first 3 months of this year 215,000 carats were extracted versus the 721,000 produced during the same period of 2017.
In an interview with Oscar Baquero, president of Fedesmeraldas, he gave a balance of the sector and the advances presented so far, after the drop in production.
Why did the fall occur?
It is important to understand that this is a small sector compared to others that produce minerals in the country. That is, if compared to coal, gold or oil, US $74 million is a small thing but it is still very representative because emeralds continue to be striking in the international market.
In this sense, each time you have to dig much more, make more investment to be able to find emeralds and it is a nonrenewable natural product that is not easy to find.
How does the emerald economy continue to consolidate?
Emeralds are a regional engine. For example, in the west of Boyacá changes are occurring, the emerald industry is transforming and we have new companies, foreign investment.
In a single company, more or less 1,200 formal jobs are being generated, which generate a giant impact. We have another Canadian company that has 200 formal jobs that are doing exploration and we have another Colombian company that has more or less 300. There are more or less 1,500 or 2,000 formal jobs that are energizing the regional economies.
What else do they invest in?
Emerald exports also pay a 1% tax and that tax is reinvested in three important things. One of them are social development projects, we have other research projects and others for promotion. With these resources we are going to build a first level hospital in Musa (Boyacá) where the government, the mayor’s office, Fedesmeralda, and the Ministry of Health are going to invest 10,000 million pesos and we hope to finish it this year, benefiting between 40,000 and 50,000 people with resources of the same emeralds.
About fifteen days ago we delivered a mobile, ludic classroom for early childhood children, a project of 1,200 million pesos with the construction of four parks.
And in terms of relations with other countries, how is the sector doing?
In October we will hold the international emerald symposium, we are going to invite all the producing countries such as Brazil, Zambia, Afghanistan, those countries are the largest emerald producers in the world and they will come here, from October 12 to the 14th.
In addition, in that same event we will have the participation of the International Jewelry Confederation, which is the company that brings together all the jewelers in the world and all the houses such as Chanel, large investors will come to these two events and we hope to do great business.
Why is the Colombian emerald attractive to international eyes?
Emeralds are a product for export and are highly valued, we have low per capita income and the people who consume emeralds are the countries that have the greatest economic growth, so they are countries like India, China, Asia where the Colombian emeralds are arriving.
Is the drop in production related to the exploitation of the emerald?
Yes of course, it has to do with the exploitation model. In the past we used to do open-pit mining, that is, the mountain would collapse, so that practice caused large amounts of land to be worn away for nothing because the emeralds were very close to the ground. After we understood that the emeralds were not in the mountains but that they were going down, we began to do tunnel mining, which started more or less in the 90s, for those years there was a great production of emeralds due to the type of exploitation, We easily reached 12 million carats exported. But at the moment we have a level of exports, per year, of two million carats.
Because tunnel mining is much more expensive, it no longer moves as many amounts of earth and they focus on smaller points the exploitation proceeding more slowly. That is why emerald finds are smaller and finding a larger quantity would require a much larger investment in technology and manpower.
Why not make the investment?
The point is that investing in emeralds is very risky because you can make the tunnel, you can make all the investment and find nothing. So we have, with the existing resources, to draw little by little to achieve an enormous potential of emeralds in Colombia
It can be interpreted that the emerald is running out …
No, we have enormous potential. According to Ingeominas studies, we have 100,000 productive hectares, of which only 10,000 have been explored and exploited. This shows that we have enormous potential but we must also understand that finding emeralds as it is a fortuitous thing, almost a random thing, it must be prudent, it does not make sense to make a large investment to get absolutely nothing.
So, how is the emerald priced?
Less has been found but more is going up, that is, we are exporting less amount of emeralds but the amount of dollars that is exported for emeralds is increasing at a rate of 4% or 5%. Which means that it is an elastic product, even if we have competitors like Brazil, Afghanistan, Zambia, large producers of emeralds, Colombian emeralds are still at the top of people’s minds, people want Colombian emeralds in international markets.
In times of Víctor Carranza and Víctor Quintero, emeralds, they spoke of almost mythical emeralds because of their size or because of their colors, do they continue to appear?
Yes, of course, Colombian emeralds have characteristics in their morphology and geochemistry that are special to those of other countries.
That makes us different?
There are some chemical elements called chromophores, they are what give emerald its color: chromium, banadium and iron. Iron in particular, in Colombia, is the lowest chemical element than in the rest of the emeralds in the world and that makes the green it has much more attractive, it has a more beautiful spectrum but that is only seen when compared to the others in the world.
How is the region in production?
In the region, only Colombia and Brazil are the emerald producers of South America. It is curious because Brazil not only has emeralds but other colored stones, garnets, in the market, but what it exports in all its colored stones is US $130 million and we export US $140 million in a single product, which are emeralds.
The largest producer that is Zambia, two years ago it reported more or less about 32 million carats of production but did not even reach US $120 million in sales, so we are number one in sales in the world, in quality and value.
So where do we stand …
We are in third place in quantity production, but in price first.
What countries do we export to?
Most of the emeralds make it to Asia, but if you look at export records, the largest amount goes to the United States due to their much more streamlined distribution system.
In the issue of environmental responsibility, how is mining?
The issue of sustainability in mining activity is a topic of discussion that is on the table. The Ministry of Mines and the Government are conquering the sector so that mining can develop in a good way.
We all know that mining affects the environment and the regulation that exists right now to develop the mine is very high, in the mining area we are developing formalization projects to sensitize miners and teach them to respect the environment, respect the habitat and that you have to conserve water, you have to follow these regulations very well. This is part of a new era of production, where there is peace, investors, salaries and formalization.
What happened with the Emerald War?
That is a label that we have to turn the page, the emerald war and the peace pact was signed in 1990, we are talking about almost 30 years of the peace process and it is something that everyone loves.
For us as a union it is a very painful thing and we cannot deny that it has happened, but if you look at the figures for violent deaths in Boyacá, the reduction is significant, if you look at the influence of illegal armed groups there is zero.
So for us as a union it is a very painful memory that we want to forget, we have always cried out to the authorities that what is needed is that justice be done, and right now it is coming.