Tanzania to lose more if it puts up soda ash plant

Saturday September 8 2012

By ROSEMARY MIRONDO Special Correspondent

The proposed soda ash processing plant near Lake Natron, which is a breeding site for Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor, continues to draw opposition; this time about its economic viability.

Dr Reuben Kadigi, an economist at Sokoine University of Agriculture said the projected return on investment over the next 50 years would be a loss of between Tsh68.6 billion ($44.3 million) and Tsh761.6 billion ($492.1 million).

According to Dr Kadigi, if the government invests in tourism, protection of the environment and promotion of local livelihood alternatives, both public and local communities stand to gain between Tsh1.9 trillion ($1.28 billion) and Tsh2.4 trillion ($1.57 billion) in 50 years.

Dr Kadigi said that going by the current level of soda ash prices and investment costs, benefits of ecosystem conservation outweigh the benefits of soda ash mining.

“The people and the environment would still tap greater benefits compared with soda ash mining if the government continued managing and investing in the environment at current levels,” he said.

He said the soda ash plant would deliver far worse returns for local people because the economic case for soda ash mining is complicated by the fact that the quality of the mineral at Lake Natron is low.

He added that Tata Chemicals Magadi factory in Kenya has been facing stiff competition from China, which is a leading producer of synthetic soda ash, so much so that it has at times operated at very low production levels.

According to Ken Mwathe, acting policy and advocacy manager of BirdLife International, Tanzania should use the report to reassess its plans to build a soda ash factory at Lake Natron.

“The Lesser Flamingos sub population in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia is a major tourist attraction and the most numerous of all six Flamingo species in the world known as the East Africa population comprising 75 to 90 per cent of the global number,” he said.

Globally, Lake Natron boasts the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos, an iconic species which increasingly faces many threats, most of them human induced.

“The conditions for flamingo breeding include seclusion from predators, human disturbance and availability of food and nesting material will be threatened,” he said.

He added that it is the responsibility of the government to protect the lake because it is the only place which provides all these factors in the East African region.