Kenya Fluorspar Company, based in the Kerio Valley in northwestern Kenya, has made a major marketing breakthrough by securing orders from two leading European manufacturers in the face of fierce competition from Chinese suppliers.
The company’s executive director, Canadian-based entrepreneur Charles Field-Marsham, says the biggest challenge to the company has been competing against the Chinese, who dominate the fluorspar market and have historically produced approximately 40 to 50 per cent of the world’s supply.
The Chinese stranglehold on the international market has had the effect of depressing prices.
Indeed, during the 1980s and 1990s, international prices remained so low that they threatened to put other suppliers out of business.
Mr Field-Marsham said that Kenya Fluorspar had met the challenge head-on, recently investing over Ksh120 million ($1.81 million) in plant and machinery in order to increase production and ensure Kenyan fluorspar maintains its reputation for top quality.
Besides making inroads in the European market, the company is also eyeing lucrative markets in the Middle East in additional to its traditional outlets in India.
Kenya Fluorspar general manager Nico Spangenberg, said the investment programme included improvements at the Mbaraki port facility, upgrading of the crushing system, new laboratory facilities and enhanced environmental compliance.
He pointed out that the company was fortunate that operations were largely unaffected by the post-election violence earlier in the year, suffering only minor problems in transporting the fluorspar ore by railway to Mombasa.
Fluorspar is the second most important mineral mined in Kenya after soda ash.
It is used to produce hydrofluoric acid for various industrial use, including the manufacture of perfumes and cleaning detergents.
The Kimwarer ore deposit in Kerio Valley has been in operation since the 1970s and was for many years a state-owned enterprise.
It was acquired by Mr Field-Marsham in 1996, when the government was privatising some unprofitable enterprises.
Since then, the company has experienced an impressive turnaround and now produces around 100,000 tonnes of fluorspar per year and has a total work force of 400.
As the only major corporate concern in the district, the company provides housing, health care, education and recreation facilities for the local community.