SUMITOMO Chemicals, a giant Japanese firm is reported to be preventing Tanzania from setting up the proposed soda ash extracting factory on the shores of Lake Natron.
According to Industry and Trade Minister, Dr Abdallah Kigoda, the Japanese giant seems to have slammed a patent-like global claim on soda ash extractions, processing and distribution to an extent of restricting small players into joining the trade.
The proposed soda-ash extracting industry at Lake Natron keeps hitting stumbling blocks because already the project, which is to be undertaken by the National Development Company (NDC) is being opposed by environmentalists because the site happens to be of great importance.
The Natron wetlands are mapped within the Monduli, Longido and Ngorongoro districts of Arusha, in Northern Tanzania, while the lake itself is an important breeding area for the 2-4 million Phoeniconaias minor in East Africa and the site also supports over 100,000 individuals of other water bird species, including large numbers of migrant species.
A total of 105,730 water birds are said to rely on the lake, in addition to the fish species, Oreochromis alcalicus which appear to be endemic to Lake Natron and Kenya's Lake Magadi. The lake also supports blue-green algae Spirulina platensis that in turn is essential for the Phoeniconaias minor population.
But, Sumitomo Corp of Japan isn't concerned with the birds but rather Tanzania's invasion to its soda ash limelight. The company recently extended its trading operations of soda ash to move into manufacturing. Together with Nippon Sheet Glass, the company bought 20 per cent shares in FMC's soda ash manufacturing business which is based in Philadelphia, US.
The two companies paid a total of US$ 150 million for the new venture. The domestic demand of soda ash in Japan is 1.4m tonnes per year; approximately 20 per cent of this is imported from the US.
Japanese demand for soda ash is expected to grow steadily over the next five years, with Japanese glass manufacturers stepping up their production capacities to meet high demand in Asia-Pacific. India's Tata chemical which initially was to form a joint venture with NDC in the soda-ash project at Natron was compelled to pull out from the deal following a worldwide outcry from green activists.