Harnessing the Economic Potential of Pakistan’s Gemstone Industry

Pakistan has the fifth largest reservoir of gemstones in the world. The country exports gemstones worth at least$3.7 billion annually. The potential of Pakistan’s gemstone industry is huge when it comes to adding to the country’s economy. Pakistan has the potential to export 800,000 carat Ruby, 87,000 carat emerald and five million carat Peridot annually. However, the yield is much less due to limitations in terms of mining and processing skills and technology. Hamlets along the Gilgit-Skardu Road near the banks of Indus River have rich gemstone reserves. These include high quality Peridot, Aquamarine, Topaz, and Emerald. Pakistan has the potential to become the world’s leading gemstone exporter. The country has a vast potential to be exploited which could help in strengthening the economy of the country.

If one tries to get an insight into the gemstone mining of the country, one finds out that the mining techniques utilised back in the day are still prevalent in various areas of Pakistan. However, there have been some alterations for improvement. Predominantly, the hardware used for the process consisted of sledge hammers and metal crowbars. Pneumatic drills operated via portable air compressors have replaced them. Interestingly, even if the altitudes are as high as 2,000 vertical meters having the gemstone reserves deep into the mines, the heavy machinery to be used for the purpose are carried by miners themselves and mules. The out-dated mining techniques damage the gemstones considerably. Emergency medical assistance is not usually available at the mining sites. Resultantly, accidents leading to death are a common occurrence. According to All Pakistan Labour Federation, Balochistan, the number of mining deaths has gone up in recent years, from 120 deaths on average a year to 172 between July 2017-2018.

The country has a vast potential to be exploited which could help in strengthening the economy of the country.

A sectoral analysis of gems industry reveals that the industry in the country is seriously suffering from lack of competition. Absence of adequate and proper facilities for dealing with the overall process – from mining to finished goods- is a challenge. Value addition is of utmost importance when it comes to adding to the economy via gemstones exports. Strategic interventions are very much needed to increase the export value of  gemstones and related products.

Pakistan can certainly bring a large amount of foreign exchange by developing its gemstone industry. Gemstones are widely appreciated worldwide not just because of their beauty but also their healing properties. Found abundantly in the country in different colours, shapes, and sizes; their demand is high not only in Pakistan but also other countries. Due to this reason, Pakistan can earn huge foreign exchange by exporting these gemstones. In fact, with value addition, the revenue generated may also be increased. Gemstones are extracted, transported, processed, and refined in set-ups of varying scales in the country. Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have rich reserves of gemstones for both local and international markets. Some of the types of gemstones found in the country are termed the world’s best due to their unique features and excellent quality. The product is brought in raw form along with mother stonesto the processing centres and then polished after being cut into different shapes and sizes. Due to high demand, if investment is made in the processing department, the gemstones may certainly be promoted at way higher prices. Dynamites are still being used for extraction of gemstones in the country due to which a big percentage of  raw products gets damaged. This obsolete and risky method certainly needs to be replaced as it decreases the export value of the finished product. However, in the modern and developed world, wire cutting and block cutting techniques and novel extraction machineries are used for the purpose. These techniques also save maximum amount of raw material and the methods are also considered safe. However, the machinery being expensive is not available for smaller set-ups.

While the gemstone industry in the country has a huge potential for profitability and value addition, it is far behind its competitors in the world.

Government and other concerned quarters may focus on making a policy for provision of the latest, state-of-the-art, and safe extraction techniques for the betterment of the industry and the economy on the whole. Modern technical hardware may also be provided to the people in this trade at subsidised rates to enhance the potential of the sector. Skill development of miners and other people working in the gemstone sector is also very much the need of the hour. In order to further promote this sector, extraction, cutting, polishing, marketing, and certification on modern lines are required. In this way, the potential of this sector may be exploited to the fullest, which inturn will help strengthen the economy. Women may especially be trained in this aspect of the industry. Human resource development challenge may be tackled by empowering women entrepreneurs. Women can contribute to the sector while working from home as well. In this way, jobs will also be created in the industry in addition to foreign exchange.

While the gemstone industry in the country has a huge potential for profitability and value addition, it is far behind its competitors in the world. The development of the sector will certainly have a significant impact on the economy of the country when it comes to job creation, promoting entrepreneurship, and increasing the exports of gemstones.

Afsana Afsar

Afsana Afsar

Afsana Afsar is an Associate Editor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She also serves as an editor at The Nation.

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