The story of the Gold Digger

Why this picture?

Author: Will / Category Behind the Scenes

The above picture is one that comes up very often across our channels; on our website, on our instagram, and on our facebook page. Well, you may be wondering what's so important about this picture, this woman, this place, the landscape? The answer is.. her story, like my dad's story and like the story of many other artisan miners like her, is one filled with struggles, aspiration and inspiration. It is in part one of the main reasons why Meralt exists today; to shed a light on the artisanal and small scale mining industry in Madagascar and to bring forward the stories of these many artisan miners and diggers... or in her particular case the Gold Digger

As she walked down the slope, towards this secluded spot by the river, or so I thought, she stared at us awkwardly. She could tell we were foreign to the village. It must have been the clothes that gave it all away. Nonetheless, as is customary in these lands, greetings and smiles are exchanged endlessly, a reminder that the Malagasy are known for their warm hospitality.

The woman you see in the picture is a gold digger in the literal sense. She is not the kind that would trade love for money and much less, take advantage of you or what you have. She labours hard to make a living, manually digging holes up to 10m in depth, and with every layer of soil being removed, she carries them to this river to wash away the impurities and hopefully spring forth the gold paillettes that would feed her family.

An average bag of soil can weigh up to 10kg, and with luck, it can yield up to 4 grams of gold. Why is this lucky? Because of all these people that we've come across, very few actually obtained anything beyond a couple of gold paillettes, that is about 0.2g for a day's work. Such is the hardship of these people, but what intrigued me the most is that as we walked around the land, being attentive lest we fall into forgotten tunnels, covered by thick dry bush, these people never failed to smile.

More still, in spite of what would seem, to a stranger like me, like extreme poverty, the people eagerly pointed us to the spots that were renowned for yielding the most gold outputs. No they were not selfish or cautious that such a stranger would come and take over their lands; rather, they shared, the earth and its treasures with the strangers within their gates.  

Growing up in Madagascar, travelling to many parts of the country as a kid, whilst following my dad on his trail to mine new minerals, it never occurred to me that artisanal and small-scale mining were for many the only source of income. Certainly today, having read, heard and witnessed the stories of many of these miners, many are hoping to find that lucky stone or that lucky mineral that would forever change their lives. 'Strong' wouldn't even be an appropriate word to describe their drive and determination; in many unfortunate circumstances, some would even go to kill, exploit and abuse out of jealousy, greed or hatred. It is after all a dangerous, yet lucrative industry to be in.

As much as I cannot condone violence and exploitation, I also can't sit back knowing that these many artisan miners are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation from the dominant buyers. As such, Meralt aims to bridge this inequality gap in access to market, by fostering the autonomy of these miners and promoting the inclusive development of their communities.

At the end of the day, for many who value minerals and gemstones, like us, whether for art, science or metaphysical purposes, it is worth asking whether that healing crystal was obtained in a manner that also brought healing to the community it came from? Or did that piece of natural art come from a ground that was not subject to the shedding of blood and tears? Or did that scientific discovery bring knowledge and positive development back to these communities?

Those are questions for you to ponder; but as for us, we know what our values are and we hope that you will follow in our footsteps to make artisanal and small-scale mining a more transparent, regulated and fairer industry, one mineral at a time.


Our contributions address three key pillars. We aim to provide for the basic needs of these communities, as many times poverty is prevalent in these regions, leading to poor health, nutrition and many women and children trapped in illegal human trafficking. We aim to provide training to these communities of miners, men and women, and education for children. We aim to build infrastructure in remote regions of Madagascar, where many do not have access to electricity, potable water and basic healthcare.