12 April 2010

Nigeria: Kankara Kaolin - Katsina's Neglected 'Goldmine'

Kaolin is one of the major natural resources that abound in Katsina state. It is hugely deposited in thousands square metres scattered in many local government areas of the state. Kaolin is a fine white clay used in the making of porcelain, ceramics, medicines etc.

It is known to be deposited in huge commercial quantity at Kankara local government area and its environs

Researches conducted by various mining experts have certified Kankara kaolin as one of the best and cleanest mineral resources that lies beneath Kankara soil. For instance, its marl as well as limestone substances constitute over 40% of the ingredients required for the formation of chemical fertilizer, while clay of porcelain inside the kaolin will be a good raw material in the production of plates, cups and other clay related products.

Since the creation of Katsina state in 1987, successive military and civilian administrations had declared their intentions to explore the kaolin and utilise its resources for the economic development of the state. In some instances, public funds were committed for the purpose except in early 90's when the efforts finally metamorphosed into the creation of the famous Kankara fertilizer blending and processing plant essentially to buy kaolin from the thousands of local miners in the area and processed to meet the economic needs of the state and beyond.

Checks conducted by Daily trust in the area revealed that, despite all the pronouncement and public resources committed into the Kankara kaolin, the mineral still lies beneath the ground untapped.

While the multi-million naira processing plant has gone moribund, lying useless at the mercy of snakes and other reptiles that have taken over the factory, the thousands of local kaolin miners working at the excavation sites is left with no available markets to sell the extracted kaolin.

Despite the hard labour these local miners put into extracting the kaolin often day and night, there is hardly a good bargain and market for their effort. A local miner Ibrahim Sani Kankara told this reporter that, many of his friends got killed by landmines in the process of extracting the kaolin.

It is the same fate that local dealers suffer. Although, they have made effort to establish a cottage industry with little mechanical touch and packaging, their economic climate remains uncertain due to non availability of markets for their products except for a few ones in Funtua, Kaduna and Kano whose demands are usually less than the production capacity of the over 70 of such cottage industries scattered around Kankara and its environs.

Daily Trust gathered that, apart from about fifteen local miners that works for the dealers in different mining lots granted by the certifying federal ministry of commerce and industries, each of all the 70 cottage industries has no less than 40 youths running three shifts daily in the factory.

The excavation sites are mostly inherited businesses done at families' farm lands. Ibrahim Dan-Marke Manager who supervises some of the mining farms owned by his father told this reporter that, most of them work because they have no better option. He said they continually are finding it difficult to feed their families despite the long hours of hard work at the pits. A local miner hardly makes N500 per day, h e said.

He said, they are often at the mercies of the middlemen, who exploit them at will while the cleanest Koalin that could take a whole day to produce a sack goes for as little as N200 per bag.

The lower quality only attracts N100 per bag, whereas the farm owner goes with N50 to N30 commission for each of a kaolin bag extracted from his farm. In spite all these, he said there's low patronage and poor markets for their products all around the country.

He said: "over the years, they have been coming here with big cars, they promised to help us with tools and the likes to improve on our job but they never do. So, just forget them, we are used to tales of government officials."

Danturai who described their situation as a classical case of "monkey dey work, baboon dey chop" said majority of the miners would prefer to quit for other jobs had they any option. Daily Trust correspondent observed the tedious process Kaolin extraction from the soil which forces the miners to develop voracious appetite for food.

Alhaji Ali Danliti, one of the owners of Kaolin cottage processing factory, and the owner of Babankande General Enterprises, a local blending industry, told this reporter that, in spite of the lack of power that makes them resort to the use of diesel to operate their crushing and moulding machines, often they complete all the expensive processing and yet stay with heap of their packaged products with no available markets to sell their finished products.

Alhaji Danliti who said his factory workers takes only three days to produce a trailer worth of packaged kaolin and limestone conducted this reporter round a heap of finished product which he said can make no less than seven trailers but have laid idle in his company for over three months. With sufficient patronage he said, the production level of his workforce can generate a trailer in barely two days.

Underlining the significance of Kaolin mining in job creation in the area, Alhaji Abdullahi Jariri, owner of Danmarke Enterprises said "as dealers, we usually have our mining lots (pits) licensed by the federal ministry of commerce and industries. In every lot, you have about 15 people working for you and you pay them. When it is extracted, it's brought to this industry. Here I have about 50 workers running three shifts, some crushing, granulating and up to loading."

He said, that is the main reason whenever the markets seize in the area, prevalence of crime such as stealing and house breaking usually becomes rampant because the youth who largely works and earn a living in the industry get thrown out of their daily means of livelihood. Without work, no dealer will ever pay them a dime.

Just like the local miners, the dealers themselves have no definite prices for their commodities as they are also left with middlemen mainly from three companies stationed in Funtua, Kano and Kaduna who patronize their products through designated agents in Kankara and environs (who serve as middlemen), often they are the ones who collected the local purchase order (LPOs) from the companies and split to the factories in a piece meal with the highest cost of N210, 000 per trailer load.

Most of the dealers who spoke to our correspondent appealed to the state and federal government to help open ways of exporting their materials which they said is in high commercial quantity and can compete favourably with similar products in the international markets.

However, the Special adviser to the Katsina State governor on Resources Development, Engr. Musa Natshuni told Daily Trust that the government was not unaware of their plight and that is what necessitated the recent establishment of four fertilizer blending plants in Batsari, Safana, Bakori, and Mai'adua local government areas of the state to utilise their products in fertilizer making. This is in addition to chalk and paint making industries established in all the 34 local government areas of the state.

He said, the government's main challenges were that of standardization of their product and the relocation of the miners to a proposed mining village for which a committee has already been set up to identify a location for their layout in order to find a suitable means of helping their businesses with tools and amenities.

"Right now, their quality is not consistent. There is no use of correct adhesive, they use different things sometimes where they are supposed to use gum Arabic in binding the marl, there is poor packaging with old bags, no proper weighing and many of them have no proper mining title," he pointed out.

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