Arusha Times (Arusha)

15 December 2012

Tanzania: Soda-Ash Factory Proposal Hits Another Snag

Sumitomo Chemicals, the 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 extending of restricting small players like Tanzania, from joining the trade on their own.

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 a Ramsar site 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 waterbird 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 appears 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 a 20 percent 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 1.4 million tons per year; approximately 20 percent 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 in 2009, following a worldwide outcry from green activists.

Sumitomo Chemicals on the other hand, is already investing in Arusha, through a joint venture with A-to-Z textiles mills and together they produce bed nets impregnated with insecticide at a factory in Kisongo, in the global anti-malaria drive being bankrolled by the World Bank.

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