A Story of Restoration and Reconciliation

Chief Sahr Torlie, of the Gbense Chiefdom, in Sierra Leone, has been mining diamonds since he was twelve. Mining is all he has ever known, and it supports a household of 12 people. In the 1990s, diamond mining fueled a protracted civil war. During the war, the rich diamond reserves Kono District were at the heart of the conflict. Chief Torlie and his family were among the region’s inhabitants forced to flee their homes for neighboring Guinea.


Today, Sierra Leone has successfully completed five consecutive postwar elections. However, poverty and environmental degradation remain endemic. An estimated 40% of Sierra Leone’s diamonds originate from artisanal workings, mostly in Kono and Kenema Districts. Many of the country’s diamond-producing regions face a legacy of abandoned pits left behind by diamond diggers. The pits collect water and human waste, exposing people to health and safety risks from groundwater contamination, malaria, and water-borne diseases, along with risk of drowning.


[With DDI] we are to bring forth resources to fix a problem we jointly created.

Chief Sahr Torlie, of the Gbense Chiefdom in Sierra Leone

When he returned to his village community in Koidu in 2000, Chief Torlie began looking to agriculture as an alternative livelihood. In April 2020, following the drowning of a child in a nearby abandoned mining pit, the Diamond Development Initiative and local government officials met with Chief Torlie in his village of Holland. We worked together on a plan to restore and revitalize the area for crop cultivation. 


This project is part of DDI’s Land Reclamation Project, launched in 2019 with support from the Anglo American Foundation. We target the negative legacy of environmental and health impacts from artisanal diamond mining. DDI designed this community-led partnership with local leaders and government.


Community rice farming on a rehabilitated mine site in Kono District, Sierra Leone.

The open pits are backfilled to enhance revegetation and repurposed for farming. We prioritize sites which pose an immediate health and safety risk. We are currently targeting 90 mined-out areas in communities like Chief Torlie’s.


In July 2020, Chief Torlie and the village of Holland gathered to witness the official handover of reclaimed land, now suitable for vegetable and rice cultivation. In his thank you speech, Chief Sahr Torlie praised the project and its partners, and voiced optimism. He and his community now feel safe and more secure. The area is devoid of abandoned pits. It is now used for seasonal crop cultivation periods. He expressed the hope that DDI and the government can expand the initiative, to the benefit of other affected artisanal diamond mining communities.



Ian Rowe and Stephen D'Esposito
January 20, 2021




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