HUGE reserves of certified high-quality kaolin deposits lie beneath the magnificent Pugu Hills in Kisarawe district, Coast region. However, despite the growing demand for the product worldwide, the resources remain untapped.
Reputable geologists, both local and foreign, have confirmed that a total of 2.3 billion metric tonnes of kaolin are located in Pugu, hardly 30 kilometres away from Dar es Salaam. The reserves are known to be of sedimentary origin with similar properties to kaolin deposits found in Georgia, in the US, currently the leading producer in the world.
Kaolin is used as an input in industries to manufacture paints, finished leather, paper industries, tooth paste, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, ceramics, chalk rubber and many others. Official Geological Survey reports by the State Mining Corporation (STAMICO) indicate that kaolin reserves in Pugu are of high quality in the sense that they have high brightness and can be used for paper coating which is the largest application.
Currently, the average global market for Kaolin is US Dollar 600 per metric tonne depending on the grade and quality. The market is readily available as COMESA and SADC region has a potential demand of 300,000 metric tonnes worth 270bn/-.
Stamico report further reveals that kaolin reserves in Pugu enclose one of the world's largest kaolin deposits and the area has a long history of small scale mining operations. These started in the 1950s and were initially limited to drift mining for production of lime, ceramics and tiles.
An experienced Geologist, Dr Charles Kaaya, has said that information about the 'dormant kaolin deposits' should serve as a wake-up call to the government to supervise serious investment and large scale commercial production to add Tanzania to the list of leading kaolin producers in the world.
"Enormous revenue for the country's development could be generated through meaningful investment in Pugu kaolin mining. Moreover, many other sectors such as textile industry, paper making, production of plastic materials, manufacture of fertilizers, pesticides without persistent effects, ceramics and other uses of kaolin will be established to earn the country colossal revenue," Kaaya said.
Prof. Damian Urassa, a retired lecturer, Geology Department, University of Dar es Salaam questioned the rationale for Tanzania to remain poor depending on foreign budget support while heavily endowed with a great potential for gold, base metals, diamonds, ferrous minerals and a wide variety of gemstones.
"Kaolin classified among other industrial minerals such as soda, gypsum, phosphate and dimension stones are available at attractive economic rates. But the kind of neglect on such a non environmental destructive engagements (kaolin production) is unforgivable. This can earn the country billions of foreign exchange, still nothing is happening," Urassa remarked.
Mwamtumu Ngalupila, University of Dar es Salaam finalist, Geology Department, advised the government to form an independent mineral authority with the mandate to identify, develop and advise on the best way to manage the mineral sector.
"The government should make efforts to sponsor study tours abroad for local specialists to learn from their counterparts how best to manage important mining. Such initiatives will benefit the nation instead of fusing on hurried privatization to foreign firms ending up receiving insignificant royalties," Ngalupila warned.
According to US Geological Survey report published in 2010 by the Industrial Minerals Magazine, more than 400 million tonnes of kaolin has so far been produced from the deposits in Georgia.
"Within the next few years the kaolin production in Georgia will be downsized because of the depletion of reserves... Kaolin is an environmentally safe material with no adverse health problems as long as the fine particle dust is controlled.
The open pit mines in US and Brazil are reclaimed, so that the land can be used for agriculture, forestry, or recreational projects," reads part of the report. From the web we learn that global demand for kaolin is forecast to grow nearly two per cent per year to 25 million metric tonnes in 2013. Over the forecast period, demand for kaolin in paper production is expected to improve, offsetting an expected slowdown in the ceramics market.
Developing countries are becoming increasingly important to global kaolin demand. In 2008, the advanced economies of Japan, the US and Western Europe accounted for slightly more than one-half of kaolin consumption, from two-thirds just ten years earlier.
Again, demand for kaolin in paper is forecast to rebound from the declines seen between 1998 and 2008. Over that period kaolin suffered from competition with alternative materials (notably calcium carbonate), and that competition is expected to moderate in coming years.
Emerging markets such as China are expected to post strong gains as their paper industries expand. International trade in kaolin is widespread, with approximately one-half of kaolin consumed outside of its country of origin in 2008.
This is partially due to the concentration of kaolin production in the US, China and Brazil. Clarifying on the economics of kaolin and its uses globally, Swedish researchers, Hogqvist, Maria, Nummelin, Saara, Stahl Magnus, have established that Paper Filling and Coating take at least 45 per cent of the global production of kaolin.
Other uses include Refractory (16%), Ceramics (15%), Fibreglass (6%), Cement (6%), Rubber and Plastics (5%), Paint (3%), Catalyst (2%) and others (2%). World producers of kaolin are US, Mexico, UK, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, Czech Republic, Argentina, France, Iran, Ukraine, Germany, Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, and China producing 600,000 tonnes annually which is not enough and currently in need of imports three times its production capacity.
Responding to the question whether there were any immediate or pending plans by the government to allow investment for viable production of kaolin in Pugu Hills, the Deputy Minister for Energy and Minerals, Mr Adam Malima, said he could not remember instantly any arrangements which might lead to commercial exploitation.
"I will inquire from STAMICO officers if they have information about any planned investment in the exploitation of Pugu kaolin reserves," Malima said.