Dar es Salaam — The National Development Corporation (NDC) is looking for $500 million to set up a soda ash factory. This would enable them to exploit over one million metric tones of soda ash deposits in Lake Natron, bordering with Kenya.
Soda ash, known chemically as sodium carbonate, is a key raw material for glass, chemicals, soaps and detergents and NDC believes the proposed plant could earn the country $300 million a year and create 500 jobs. Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete said the soda ash plant would boost the country's economy and that the government will hold a 46% stake in the project through the NDC, once it reaches a consensus with any of the investors. The plans to mine and build a factory in the lake surroundings have however been strongly opposed by several activists.
Some say the proposed plans pose a negative effect on the flamingo birds population in the area and could impact badly on tourists numbers.
Others also say that the rare flora and fauna, will be steadily destroyed.
However, the NDC's Corporate Affairs Manager, Abel Ngapemba told East African Business Week they are still keen on investing in factory. He said more research is needed in order not to affect the ecology of the flamingo breeding sites in the area. Ngapemba said it was important to consider a careful research study, considering that 70% of the world flamingo population hatch in the area. Anything affecting their ecological will mean reducing the number of the world flamingos as well.
Ngapemba added that the whole process of investment could take time as the investor need to be satisfied with the ongoing research that requires not disturbing the breeding sites of flamingos.
Then the government would proceed with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and other logistics before the deal can finally kick off.
He said NDC has already discovered the type of drilling that can be applied without affecting the flamingos environment and this will all depend on the investor to agree on the said type of drilling.
Despite the opposition from residents and environmentalists, the Tanzania government is still pushing ahead with the construction of a soda-ash factory near the Lake Natron. In 2006 an Indian firm, Tata Chemicals, (part of the Tata Group) wanted to partner with NDC to set up a soda ash factory at Engaruka area, approximately 50km north-east of Lake Natron but the deal collapsed.
The government has so far announced that there is approximately 460 billion cubic litres of soda ash that has been discovered at the Engaruka area, 50 kilometres from Lake Natron.
Experts say its characteristics of multiplying itself at 4 million cubic litres per year this means that the reserves keep growing every year.