17 May 2014

Tanzania: Lake Natron's Soda Ash Project Now Seen As Major Cash Earner

After a seven-year hiatus, the proposed project to mine soda ash from Lake Natron in Ngorongoro District is back on track with the National Development Company (NDC) intending to harvest 500,000 tons from the water body per year.

Acting NDC Director, Mr Mlingi Mkucha said the half-a-million tonnes of soda ash to be mined from Lake Natron are expected to yield over 240 billion/- per year. The brine is to be sold at the rate of US $ 300 per ton adding up to US $ 150 million.

But the windfall is expected from a second, but related ambitious soda-ash project at Engaruka ward in Monduli District where the NDC also intends to reap over 1 million tons of the sodium-carbonate deposits per year.

The Engaruka Magadi project is being viewed to become a cash cow which can yield over 480 billion/- per year from the exports of soda ash, a niche which is currently being monopolized by Kenya in East and central Africa.

Both the Engaresero (Lake Natron) and Engaruka (Monduli) soda ash projects are expected to kick off with direct employments of 1000 people, with thousands others to be hired by related service firms and auxiliary companies set to be established alongside them.

However the Mumbai-based, Tata Chemicals which initially was to be part of the proposed NDC-Tata joint venture when the project was hatched in 2006 has pulled out of the deal and instead the Indian firm is now working with Kenya's Magadi Soda.

"Tata is now our main competitor which means the NDC is working to find another associate company to conduct soda ash mining in Tanzania," explained Mr Mkucha, adding that Tata called it quits when environmentalists raised uproar regarding setting up factories on Lake Natron which is a Ramsar wetland site of international importance.

But what do the green activists have to say now that the project is resuming? "Well we are not building factories on or near Natron but far away in fact 10 kilometres from the lake in order to preserve the breeding site of lesser flamingos," explained the NDC Director.

Longido District Commissioner, Mr James Ole Millya said the factory will be built at Osiosi ward of Longido with the brine pumped from Natron using underground pipes.

Mr Jowika Kasunga, the Monduli District Commissioner pointed out that the Magadi-Soda firm of Kenya has been mining sodium carbonate for over 100 years now, making billions of dollars even though their deposits flow from the Natron basin in Tanzania, thus it was time for the latter to start enjoying the resources as well.

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