‘We are sitting on a marble goldmine.’
Sanaullah Khan, Chairman, Businessmen Group, All Pakistan Marble Mining Processing Industry and Exporters Association (APMMPIEA), speaks to Enterprise.
Sanaullah Khan says that the marble sector has been in existence in Pakistan for more than 40 years. The first major project that utilized marble in a big way was the Quaid-e-azam’s mausoleum for which the stone was brought in from Namak Ali in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. The next major project was the Jinnah Terminal at Quaid-eAzam International Airport in Karachi for which all the marble was imported.
“I have urged the government that all locations including airports and government offices visited by foreigners should use local marble. Unfortunately all the marble used at our airports in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar is imported. The interesting fact is that good quality marble is available in all the four provinces and in the 8 FATAS. It is a misconception that marble is only available in Balochistan or KPK,” he says.
Sanaullah Khan says that starting from Dera Ismail Khan, all of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan have beige colour marble deposits, the type that consists of nearly 60 percent of the global marble trade while the other 40 percent consists of granite and other colours of marble stone.
“We do not have any difficulty in the marketing of beige marble,” he adds, “because Europe has been marketing it for more than three thousand years and the same family of marble is available in Pakistan, while beige marble is not available in India and China.’
He says that India and China have sufficient granite but not marble which China is importing from Pakistan on a large scale. Around 10 years back, Pakistan’s marble exports stood at $4 to $5 million. This had increased to $60 million by 2008 but due to the uncertain conditions in the country, in 2011 exports dropped to about $45 million. This is not even one percent of global marble trade and represents Pakistan’s exports to just 12 countries. Pakistan’s major marble exports to Europe and USA were affected by 9/11 and the trade shifted to China and the Middle East.
According to Sanaullah Khan, the benefit of marble exports to China is that there is no duty under the Free Trade Agreement between Pakistan and China. The problem, he says, is that Pakistanis have opened their companies in China due to poor economic conditions in the country and are dumping marble there and almost 90 percent of the Chinese industry does not know that the marble is coming from Pakistan. He says it would be good for Chinese companies to know this fact and enter joint ventures with Pakistan or establish their industries in Pakistan.
“Only in the Manghopir area in Karachi,” he says, “there are about 400 marble factories. This is not known to many people or even government officials, but people in European or US marble trade know about this area. It is so unfortunate that we receive visitors and buyers from across the world and they are so surprised to see the development of the marble industry here. All this has been achieved on self-help basis. Earlier these factories were only meeting local consumption needs but now with increasing demand from the Middle East, they are achieving export targets of up to $60 million. In the current financial year, until April, we had achieved exports of about $32 million. I expect that in the remaining 3 months we would be able to achieve a target of $50 million which is worth appreciation in the existing unfavourable conditions when there is no electricity, fuel prices are shooting up and security conditions are so bad”.
Sanaullah Khan is of the view that the industry needs a proper area for marble storage and processing. The source of about 90 percent of marble is in Balochistan while the processing industry exists in Karachi. The plan for establishing a marble city in Karachi has not materialized yet and this is quite unfortunate for the industry. It is difficult to store raw marble in factories and a huge quantity worth millions of dollars is dumped outside the factories in Karachi.
Europe has had a marble industry for the past four thousand years and is termed as the founder of marble art and craft. Architects and craftsmen in India are known to have been working in marble for the past 800 years. The history of the Osmania era shows that Turkey has also had a tradition of working in marble for 6 to seven hundred years. To expect Pakistan to take a leap and arrive at the same level is rather unjustified. In comparative terms, Pakistan has progressed faster in the past 30 to forty years without any substantial support. By working in a relatively unorganized manner, the country has yielded profits of 50 to sixty million dollars, so if the marble sector were to be treated as a proper industry, it would offer huge economic gains.
In Sanaullah Khan’s view, Pakistan has the level of potential that, like China, can offer tonnes of marble stock directly sellable from its ports.
He says: “I have been urging since 2004 for conducting a satellite survey of our deposits. My experience says that we have exploited not even 0.5 percent of these deposits so far. Right now there is a slump in the local market, otherwise there would be about 400 trucks bringing nearly 500 to six hundred tonnes of marble every day to the factories here. On monthly basis, we are processing about 3 to four lakh tonnes of marble.
“We have also started exporting the best quality of black granite coming from Mansehra, as the mining processes have improved. We do not have any issue of selling our marble but providing the desired quantity is an issue. The current major consumption these days is in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq. But more importantly, I would like to point out that our Ministry and trade bodies should send well-informed and better aware representatives to our embassies and commercial consulates, as particularly our people posted in the Middle East, do not have much knowledge about the quality of marble that Pakistan offers. The government should focus on how more friendly relations can be cultivated with marble trading countries, so that our export figures can go up, We are sitting on a marble goldmine,” says the APMMPIEA Chairman.
He stresses the fact that marble is a higher-earning sector as compared to the agricultural sector. If subsidies in millions can be given to urea fertilizer, a 10 percent subsidy to the marble sector, would bring in much bigger returns.
In terms of development potential of the marble sector, Sanaullah quotes the example of Lui in Balochistan, where when mining started 15 to twenty years back, the people there had never seen coins or paper currency. The population was scarce and there was no greenery. The local people used to ask the miners working there for food. Today, the conditions are different as there are about 500 tube wells in the area and about 15 to 20 thousand tonnes of onion is cultivated which is exported and also sold in the local market at relatively higher rates. In fact, a number of crops are being cultivated in the area which is witnessing considerable progress.
He says that while mountains have existed in the region since the creation of the planet but unless the wealth of these mountains is not exploited properly, people will never benefit and all this could be made possible by the marble sector.
The marble industry offers the possibility of an economic revolution in the country. Like wood, every piece of marble stone can be sold. Marble arriving from the mines in the form of blocks is converted to sheets and rods, while just the scrap produced at the 400 factories in Karachi’s Manghopir area amounts to 2,500 tonnes daily. This scrap can be utilized in producing world-class cement, in building dams, repairing roads and also in products such as talcum powder and medicine capsules.
Sanaullah Khan says that at this stage, modern technology would not be very useful for the marble industry in Pakistan as it would simply cut down the employed labour by almost fifty percent while increasing operational costs. The quality of local machinery being produced, even in small areas of Pakistan, is sufficient for local needs and can also be exported as it compares well with the quality produced by international manufacturers.
The involvement of financial institutions can reduce the hurdles of cash payments that people in the industry face, particularly when many illiterate people working throughout the sector choose to stay away from banks.
In Sanaullah Khan’s view, marble is one sector that is not dependent on nature the way agriculture is, as it needs water and is affected by climatic conditions that are not in human control. Marble is a running sector, ready to give employment to poor people who can become useful members of society.
He recalls that in the 90s, when he set up a marble factory in Buner, KPK, it was the third marble processing unit in the area. Today, there are almost 500 factories there and they are all running on self-help basis. It is unfortunate that this is one sector where neither the federal nor the provincial governments have extended any support. The entire industry is so far largely geared to local consumption which is worth more than $1 billion and the market need is mainly met through imports, mostly of granite because processing granite locally is more expensive than marble.