Stretched across the northern mountains of Myanmar, Kachin State is the jade mining capital of the world. A single stone, once cut and processed for the international market, can sell for several million dollars. But although the industry comprises nearly half of the country’s GDP, at around $31 billion annually, it hasn’t done much to lift Myanmar from the bottom ranks of the world poverty index.
In the region dubbed the “new wild west of Asia,” control of ore is one of the issues contributing to the world’s oldest civil war. It started when ethnic Kachin rebels took up arms against the national government after a military coup in 1962. Due to its remote location and strict travel restrictions imposed by the government, the international community has largely ignored the conflict. Today, Kachin State is part of a lawless grey area, controlled in patches by the national government, rebels and local militias (read R&K’s 2012 interview with the daughter of Kachin freedom fighter). The lucrative jade trade plays a key role in keeping the conflict alive and well-funded.