Malawian cement producer Lafarge Portland says it is investing US$75m in a new limestone-mining project at Chenkumbi Hills, in Malawi’s southern district of Machinga.
The cement producer, which has been importing clinker and gypsum from Circle Cement, of Zimbabwe, says it is moving fast to start production at the Chenkumbi mine as soon as possible because the continuing economic crisis in Zimbabwe is leading to “unstable prices and a shortage of the raw materials”.
“The situation looks grave and there are no signs of an immediate solution in sight. We are not even sure whether the little that trickles from Zimbabwe will continue and suffice for an average monthly requirement of 17 000 t,” says Lafarge Portland Malawi commercial manager Nesta Msowoya.
Lafarge Portland started import- ing clinker from Zimbabwe in November 2002, when it closed its Changalume limestone mine after a survey had revealed that the mine no longer had enough commercially mineable deposits.
Msowoya says dwindling supplies of clinker from Zimbabwe have forced the company to start importing additional volumes from the Far East.
“This decision is also not at all favourable because it has increased landed costs by 38%, thereby leading to a 14% cement price hike by the company,” explains Msowoya.
He says the company is fast-tracking the development of the mine at Chenkumbi so that it is operational by 2009.
Meanwhile, the Malawi government has removed restrictions on the importation of cement, which it put in place in 2000, after Lafarge Portland and Shayona Cement complained about “unfair” competition posed by cheap imports from Zimbabwe.
Malawi’s Trade and Industry Minister, Ken Lipenga, says government has removed the restrictions owing to the current shortage of the commodity.
“The shortage of cement in the country has come at a time when there is a lot of construction work. We have, therefore, resolved to open the gates for anyone who wants to import cement into the country.
“This implies that importers will no longer have to seek licences to import cement. It should be noted that this is a temporary measure, which will be reviewed once the situation gets back to normal,” says Lipenga.