Benoit Balanca Photography » Benoit Balanca Photography » Ilakaka, dust and gems

15 years ago, Ilakaka was a tiny village on the Malagasy National Road 7 (which connects the capital Antananarivo to Toliara in the south), about 80 km south of Ihosy.
In 1998, following the discovery of sapphires by a local farmer, the few wooden houses turned quickly into a small unorganized town, stretched along the road. The miners came from all over the country hoping to make their fortune.
But, Ilakaka now seems to develop at a slower pace: population continues to grow, sapphires are becoming scarcer and business is less successful.
According to the Resource Center for International Trade, the Malagasy sapphires represented 15% of world production, in February 2011.

The miner's avrage salary ranges from 2000 to 3000 Ar per day (approx: 1 € = 2800 Ar). But good finds are fluctuating and often interrupted by several slack weeks.
Nowadays, ressources are dwindling, forcing workers to dig always further and deeper. Many of them leave the town for days or weeks to reach distant mines deep in the bush. The fares are quite expensive (about 1500 Ar for a round trip for one person to Ankshoa, one of the largest mining in the area). Thus, miners come back only when they have stones to sell.
The lack of material forces workers to dig flimsy galleries with an average depth of about 20 m (some shafts are 50 m deep !). Therefore, landslides are not uncommon and, without rescue systems, accidents are often fatal.
Every morning, the miners come into town to sell their products. The road is flanked with small selling booths, run by buyers coming mostly from Thailand and Sri Lanka. Sapphires are purchased rough. The best parts are traded for about 100,000 Ar/0.4 g. Their prices vary according to clarity, color, shape and weight.
Every color of sapphires can, be found in Ilakaka, but the local specialty is red/purple.