RISING DEMAND FOR QUALITY NATURAL STONE IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD IS GOOD NEWS FOR COUNTRIES LIKE AFGHANISTAN, WHICH HAS EXCELLENT POTENTIAL. ASSUMING CONTINUING POLITICAL STABILITY, THIS CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRY IS SET TO BECOME AN IMPORTANT SOURCE OF HIGH QUALITY MARBLE AND OTHER STONE. PAUL DANIEL TALKED TO THE LOCAL EXPERTS.
Two factors are stimulating the development of the dimension stone industry in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) in 2013 - the rising price of high quality marble and the increasing demand for natural stone in many parts of the world. According to a report in Bloomberg.com on 16/01/13, ´ the richest Russians, Indians and Chinese are buying the world´s most expensive marbles ...prices are rising about 7% a year...the current record is 2300€/m2 . The Carrara region in Italy is widely regarded as the source of ´ the best´ marble in terms of colour and physical properties. If press reports are to be believed, some Afghan white marbles can compete with ´the best´. Meanwhile in his XXIII Report Marble and Stones in the World published by Aldus Publishers of Carrara, Dr Carlo Montani - long regarded as an authoritative voice in the stone world - notes that the world-wide demand for dimension stone is still on the rise.
Basic facts and history
The total area of the Republic of Afghanistan is 647.500 km2, about the size of Texas in the USA and roughly 150.000 km2 larger than Spain. To the north lie Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, at the extreme north-east is China, to the east and south is Pakistan, and to the west is Iran. The country is split east to west by the HinduKush mountain range, rising in the east to heights of over 7.300 m. A high percentage of the current population of around 30,5 million live in the less mountainous south-west of the country. Darius I and Alexander the Great were the first to use Afghanistan as the gateway to India. Islamic conquerors arrived in the 7th century, followed by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 19th century Afghanistan became a battleground in the rivalry between Imperial Britain and zarist Russia for the control of Central Asia. In 1893 Britain established an unofficial border separating Afghanistan from British India, and granted full independence to Afghanistan in 1919. (Ironically India did not achieve independence until 1947).
Dimension stone sources and reserves
Some of the earliest indications of mining, anywhere in the world, come from Afghanistan - around 6000 years ago. It was not until the 19th century that systematic attempts were made to assess mineral resources in the country, initially by British military expeditions and later by the Geological Survey of India. In 1965 the government of Afghanistan inaugurated the National Geological Survey. Investigations were severely curtailed with the Soviet invasion in December 1979. Following the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989 the Afghanistan Geological Survey (AGS) office found itself literally on the front lines of internal conflicts. In 2004 the British Geological Survey and United States Geological Survey began collaborative projects with the AGS and Ministry of Mines & Industries. Today a mining regulatory, supervisory and monitoring authority of a high international standard exists in the country . Precious and semi-precious stones in Afghanistan include high quality emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet and ruby. Around 65 deposits of dimension stone have been identified and some of these can support multiple quarries. Marble, travertine, onyx and granite are the main stone types. Marble is extracted from quarries in at least 14 Afghan provinces.
The following data was taken from a brohure produced by the AGS:
-Kabul Province. Proterozoic marble is quarried in Ghazak, Hazare Baghal, Kariz-Amir, Pul-e-Charkhy, Qalamkar and Tara Kheel. The Kariz-Amir marble occurs about 40 km north of Kabul and consists of granular white, rarely grey-yellow marble. A fine-grained black marble occurs 32 km east of Kabul at Ghazak.
-Logar Province. Proterozoic marble is extracted in Awbazak, Dehnow and Mohammad Agha. Awbazak marble is bioclastic and brown in colour. Dehnow marble is brecciated and brown in colour, whilst Mohammad Agha marble is black and white.
-Wardak Province. Proterozoic Maydan marble occurs near Maydan Shar and consists of grey and dark grey material in beds up to 450 m thick interbedded with schist. The Maydan Marble Mines have five working areas in a 10-12 km outcrop that has been worked for around 40 years.
-Badakhshan Province. The Silurian-Devonian Bini-Kama marble consists of medium and coarsely crystalline marble; the resource is estimated at 1300 million tons.
-Herat Province. Proterozoic Chesht-i-Sharif marble occurs 120 km east of Herat city and consists of a finely crystalline marble ranging in colour from pure white to a subtle light green. This is one of the most popular Afghan dimension stones.
-Nangarhar Province. The Proterozoic Khogiani marble occurs 35 km south-west of Jalalabad and consists of a white marble popularly known as Afghan White.
-Samangan Province. Samangan marble is available.
-Parwan Province. Kaftar Khana, Galatak and Salang marbles occur in this province.
-Khost Province. Zurmat marble is found here.
Onyx marble is quarried from several provinces in Afghanistan including Bamyan, Helmand and Faryab, with colours including shades of yellow, green and brown. High quality granites in Bamyan Province which form the Shirbatu Granite Complex were identified by Afghanistan Geological Survey (AGS) geologists in 2010. The complex is located about 225 km by road north-west of Kabul. Based on outcrop dimensions the resource may contain 32 billion m3 of granite in various colours. According to the AGS, resources at Shirbatu could provide the basis of a profitable dimension stone industry supplying for example tiles in the surrounding region including Kabul. There are also granite deposits in Nooristan, Badakhshan, Panjsher, Jalalabad, Herat and Konar. More recently a detailed ´Marble survey´ was conducted under Afghanistan Small and Medium Enterprise Development Project (ASMED) managed by Wind Engineering & Construction Company.
According to a report Afghanistan Marble/Granite by USAID/ASME published in December 2008, the dimension stone industry has the potential to contribute up to 4% of GDP. As we shall see, there are successful companies in the sector but there are obstacles to be overcome. Top of the action list is perhaps to stop blasting in dimension stone quarries, for obvious reasons. Since 2009 some companies have purchased diamond wire machines. However capital investment to purchase these machines and associated drilling machines is beyond the means of small companies. Help may be forthcoming under certain conditions. 'Afghanistan' was published by the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISI) in 2012 and is available online. In this lengthy report author Abdul Ghafar Rassin, Senior Economic & Financial Specialist at the Ministry of Mines, says that the Afghan marble industry has grown by 60% since 2008. A full Market Analysis is presented in which it is stated that there are around 31 active dimension stone quarries in the country and 72 processing plants. But in terms of market share, there are 7 companies - 3 in Herat, 2 in Nangarhar (Jalalabad) and 2 in Wardak Province - that supply over 60% of production. Notes Mr. Ghafar Rassin, the Chesht-i-Sharif white marble from Herat in the west and Afghan White marble from near Jalalabad in the east have much higher quality than marble from other provinces. ( According to several sources, Chesht-i-Sharif and Afghan White marbles are on a par with Carrara marble in terms of quality ). Based on field data collected by the Ministry of Mines, projections show that in terms of the number of employees, volume of production and share of GDP, the marble industry could grow fivefold over the next 5 years provided that certain steps are taken. The paper notes that at present, almost 85% of the domestic market is dominated by Pakistani marble due to lower prices. The main constraints to improving the competitiveness of Afghan marble products are discussed in the paper.
At present, most Afghan dimension stone principally marble - that is exported is in the form of raw blocks. Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Iran are the main buyers. A few companies have processing equipment able to produce export quality slabs and tiles. These products are mainly sold to Middle East, Central and South Asian buyers.
According to local experts, the following companies are presently among the market leaders in Afghanistan (in alpabetical order):
- Arian Marble Industries, Jalalabad. This company has been in business for 11 years and sells Afghan White marble tiles, slabs and marble handicrafts. The daily production capacity is over 21 m3 (750 ft3). Arian Marble says it can meet all domestic and foreign market demands.
- Equity Capital Mining (ECM), Herat. Prior to returning to their homeland in 2006, brothers Nasim and Adam Doost had accumulated over 35 years experience in prospecting for and mining amethyst and garnet in Zambia, Brazil and Peru. Back in Afghanistan the Doost established Equity Capital Mining (ECM) in 2007. They began receiving USAID private sector development support in 2009. The brothers have since invested heavily in marble quarrying equipment and a processing factory. The Chesht-i-Sharif deposit east of Herat City is regarded as one of the finest sources of white marble in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Mines has calculated reserves of at least 3 million m3 in the area. The quarry owned by Doost is equipped with 15 diamond wire machines, 5 front-loaders, 2 excavators, 2 bulldozers, 4 generators, compressors, drilling machines and other equipment. The volume of marble extracted is around 400 m3 a year. The road from the quarry to the Doost Marble Factory in Herat City is a one-lane gravel road most of the way and is 167 km long. Journey time is about 5 hours by car and 10 hours by truck. There are plans to extend power lines to the quarry area and build processing facilities locally. The $6 million Doost factory in Herat was inaugurated in May 2011. The processing equipment installed includes a Gaspari Menotti gang saw, a block cutter, tile line, polishing line and 5 bridge saws. The products sold include blocks, slabs, tiles, paving, memorials and sculptures. About 60% of production is exported - to Italy, India, USA, Turkey, UAE, China, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. ECM´s annual turnover is around $US 2 million. The Doosts estimate that incuding quarry personnel and indirect employment incuding sales and distribution, ECM has created around 4000 jobs to date. In recent projects, ECM Doost is supplying marble tiles for the lobby floor of the Womens American University in Kabul, and about 40.000 ft2 for the new Afghan Parliament Building.
- Ghulghula Marble Processing Factory, Omid-isabz Township, Kabul. Ghulgula was founded in 2006. Abdul Ali Jafary is General Manager. He has 40 years experience in carving and processing stone. Equipped with new machinery, Ghulghula has created jobs for dozens of people and has supplied orders at home and abroad. Processing machines include a block cutter, carving machine and a polishing line. Materials processed include marble and onyx from around Afghanistan.
- Hajjari Najjari Helmand was a state-owned factory founded in 1965. The original factory was destroyed during the civil war in Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban the Eshaq Ferouz company won the private bidding and took over the factory from the government in 2008. A significant investment was made in purchasing new Italian processing machinery and a contract was signed with the government to extract onyx from a quarry in Deshoo district of Helmand province. Hajjari Najjari has created 320 jobs in Helmand province. The factory is producing a wide range of marble and onyx products for both local and international markets. The factory owner is Mr Haji Mohammad Aref Rahmati. The company owns a showroom in Bagh-e Babur, Kabul.
- New National Marble Ltd, Jalalabad. The owner of this company Dr Shams has been in the marble business for 8 years. New National Marble Ltd was established in 2011 and sells Afghan White marble slabs and tiles on the domestic and foreign markets.
- Sahil Marble / Izat Ullah Sahil Marble, Jalalabad. Sahil Marble Factory was established in 2004. With the financial support of the USAID/Small & Medium Enterprises (SME) Development project, quarry extraction has been modernised and blocks are now sold to the other processing companies locally and beyond. With the new equipment Sahil Marble has been able to increase annual production from 1.080 tons to 3.600 tons, resulting in total annual sales of nearly $297.000, a nearly 300% increase compared with previous years. The company has identified export opportunities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China. In a report published in June 2011, the 'dazzling white marble of Nangarhar´ was tipped to become a sales success in Europe and the Middle East. Most of the 5.000 tons or so now produced annually goes to the domestic market or to Pakistan. But recently small batches of Sahil marble have been sent to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Germany, the UK and China. In the same article, it was reported that a Norwegian company had signed a contract to extract and process marble in Nangarhar.
- Takht-e Rustam Marble Processing Factory. Founded in 2012, this is the first marble processing factory to be established in Mazar-e Sharif in north Afghanistan. The factory processes marble from Sholuktoo quarry in Samangan province, Tarakheil quarry in Kabul province, and onyx from Almar quarry in Faryab province. Some new quarries have also been discovered in Takhar, Maimana and Samangan provinces. The factory and quarry owner is Mr Haji Baqi.
A Marble Center of Excellence has recently been created in Kabul. One of the objectives will be to create training programmes with the assistance of Afghan quarry owners, mining equipment manufacturers and industry associations, to train participants in current dimension stone extraction and processing methods. The Center will strive to help mitigate the economic impact of the upcoming decline in donor aid to Afghanistan, enable Afghan firms to produce for the domestic market, conduct trade with international business partners, and apply for and secure the financing needed for growth and sustainability. Further information is available from Dr Peter Roberts, President & Program Manager, Marble Center of Excellence, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Learning from Turkey
In November 2012, the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP) facilitated a 12-day training course for 6 Afghan marble companies in Turkey. The hosts included MKS Machinery, makers of marble processing machines, Turkish government mining officials, the DEMMER Co and the TEMMER marble processing company. The Afghan participants stated that the training courses had accomplished ´more than they had expected´.
Support from India and UNIDO
After meeting a delegation from Afghanistan at the India Stonemart 2013 Exhibition in Jaipur on 3rd February 2013, the CEO of the Centre for Development of Stones, Mr RK Gupta, said that CDOS is offering assistance to Afghanistan in developing its stone industry, in association with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). Under the plan, nearly $200 million is being provided in aid. In the first phase, about 40-50 entrepreneurs from the Afghan stone industry will be selected for assistance.
A new USAID project
On 13th February 2013, USAID, in partnership with VEGA/IESC, launched a new programme to support Afghan businesses called ABADE -Assistance in Building Afghanistan by Developing Enterprises. During the opening ceremonies Eng. Rahmatullah Rahmat, a leading Afghan White quarry owner who also has a small factory stated that ´ If we talk only about Herat, Wardak and Jalalabad, these provinces have reserves of 2 billion m3 of good quality (dimension) stone worth $250 - $350 billion USD´. Eng.Rahmat continued that ´ If we get ABADE support, we will see progress in the marble sector very soon investors will be convinced and they will see that this is a key sector in improving Afghanistan´s economy and fundamental stability´. Eng. Rahmat revealed that ´Afghanistan has a plan to invent a carving academy to create jobs for poor, disabled citizens, men and women in the sector´.
Devastated by three decades of almost uninterrupted conflict, Afghanistan has made enormous progress towards normality since the present government took power in 2002. A dimension stone industry is being established with international help. According to several experts, Herat City has the potential to become the ´Marble Capital´ of Afghanistan. The main reasons are: 1 - Availabilty of best quality marble deposits in Chesht-i-Sharif district ; 2 Herat City has the biggest trade ´port´ (Islam Qala), facilitating export ; 3 - Availability of electricity and land for factories. An article in USAID Frontlines March/April 2012 issue reported that ´most (marble) quarries in Herat Province have now converted from the traditional blasting techniques to diamond wire extraction technology´. A list of marble processing factories in Herat City was kindly supplied by Mr Abdul Ghafar Rassin of the MoM. As the private sector continues to invest in knowledge and equipment to improve quarrying and processing, Afghanistan is set to follow the example of other marble-producing countries. It has been estimated that over $200 billion worth of marble resources are available for development. Aid worth an annual $4 billion has been pledged to the Afghan government after most NATO combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. A British government spokesman stated recently that ´Afghan forces are already responsible for more than 75% of the population and by the end of 2014 the country will have a well-trained and capable national security force of over 300.000'.
The author wishes to record special thanks to Egyptian expert Khaled ElHamalawy, R&D Director, Afghanistan Marble Centre of Excellence, Kabul ; Abdul Ghafar Rassin, Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) ; Paul Lamoureux, Consultant to USAID ; Mirzaman Popal, Industries & Export Promotion Director, ACCI ; Clive J. Mitchell, BGS.
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