The programme, called GemFair, will create a secure and transparent route to market for ethically-sourced artisanal and small-scale mined (ASM) diamonds.
"GemFair will use dedicated technology to record ASM production at mine sites that meet demonstrable ethical standards, with the aim of purchasing rough diamonds from approved locations while helping improve working conditions and livelihoods for those working in the sector," it said.
De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver said, although the ASM sector provided critical income for many poverty-affected communities, it lacked access to established international markets and the ability to derive fair value for participants due to parts of it being largely informal and unregulated.
"By providing a secure route to market, offering fair prices and helping raise standards, we hope to play a role in enhancing the prospects for those working in the sector, while also potentially opening up a new source of supply for De Beers over the longer term."
Gemfair and the Diamond Development Initiative will partner to ensure miners that want to participate are certified by the DDI as meeting its standards, as well as meet the standards specified by GemFair.
De Beers will then provide the certified and qualified miners with an app and dedicated tablet equipped with diamond ‘toolkit' support that will allow them to digitally track ASM diamonds through the value chain.
The software will use GPC locations and QR-coded ‘bag and tag' equipment and be able to work on- and offline. The hardware includes solar chargers to be able to work in rural conditions.
"If proved successful, the technology used in GemFair will be integrated with the diamond industry blockchain platform De Beers is currently developing, allowing the ASM sector to participate in the blockchain and providing an added layer of assurance for ASM production," De Beers said.
Sierra Leone was chosen as the pilot country, as a number of artisanal mining sites in Sierra Leone are already participating in the DDI's Maendeleo diamond standards programme and the government has made noticeable advancements to formalise the ASM sector.
DDI executive director Dorothee Gizenga said the DDI was focused on ensuring ASM miners had access to opportunities, information and tools needed to help create self-sustaining communities and formally recognise the sector's contribution to economic development.
"We believe GemFair has the potential to significantly transform the sector by providing a new and secure route to market … we look forward to continuing to work with De Beers, the government of Sierra Leone and all other stakeholders as we progress," she said.
In the pre-pilot phase starting this month, GemFair and the DDI will work together to set up a local presence in Sierra Leone to ensure standards are being met, participating miners are trained to use the technology, and they understand the diamond classification.
Once sites are sufficiently compliant and the technology is working effectively, the pilot will start, with GemFair starting to buy diamonds from participating miners. It aims for the first purchase to take place later in the year.
No miner will be obligated to sell to GemFair if they decide not to and any approved purchases will be sold via De Beers' auction sales channel.