Decorative stone export is weak despite huge stock [Archives:2008/1154/Last Page]

May 12 2008

Almigdad Mojalli

Yemen's annual production of decorative stone, which includes materials such as marble and granite, is estimated at 2.5 million tons and valued at YR 2.13 billion. The country still has a large stock – approximately 4.96 billion cubic meters – of decorative stone, which could make it a promising business, but only if transport and export infrastructure are improved.

Noaman Al-Molsi, general secretary of the Supreme Council for Developing Exports, notes that Yemen exports only YR 850,000 worth of decorative and building stones, whereas it imports more than YR 1 billion in stone.

Ahmed Al-Sheleif, head of the Marble and Granite Exporters Association, attributes the huge gap between import and export trade of stone to weakness of investment in this field. According to him, investment in the field of decorative stone suffers from poor infrastructure, lack of funds to finance quarrying projects and the non-existence of railways that could connect quarries to Yemen's seaports.

As Al-Sheleif explained, “Transporting one ton of stone to the port costs $20 to $22, but if we had a rail system, the cost would only be between $1 and $2.”

The Ministry of Industry and Trade emphasizes that decorative stone is a promising investment opportunity in the field of extraction, adding that most extraction sites are near main roads.

Stone is specified geologically according to how it forms in nature. Yemen has metamorphic stones such as marble and quartzite (not to be confused with the mineral quartz), sedimentary stones like sandstone and limestone and volcanic stones such as granite and basalt.

According to the Trade Ministry, Yemen has 6.1 million cubic meters of granite reserve located in Abyan, Al-Beidha, Hajjah, Hodeidah, Marib, Sa'ada and Taiz governorates. Approximately 121 cubic meters of basalt reserves are located in Dhamar, Ibb and Taiz governorates, while the nation's marble reserve exceeds 1 billion cubic meters.

A geological survey conducted by the General Authority of Mineral Wealth in collaboration with foreign specialists discovered that Yemen's decorative stones are distinctive, with unique characteristics in terms of color and shape, comprising an estimated 600 different types of stone.

According to the geological survey, 22 types of stones are suitable for industrial and building purposes, including limestone and dolomite, which total 13.5 billion cubic meters in Abyan, Amran, Hadramout, Hodeidah, Sa'ada, Sana'a, Shabwa and Taiz governorates.

Marble quarries estimated at more than a billion cubic meters also have been discovered in the governorates of Abyan, Hajjah, Marib, Sana'a and Taiz, while 13 million cubic meters of crude quartzite is in Hajjah and Sa'ada.

The geological situation of decorative and building stones

A study by the General Authority of Mineral Wealth stated that the most important decorative and building stones are found at volcanic sites covering approximately 40,000 square kilometers throughout Amran, Hajjah, Marib and Sana'a governorates. These volcanic stones, such as granite and basalt, represent 56 percent of domestic stone consumption.

The second most prevalent type of stone is sedimentary, including sandstone and limestone, which mainly exist in the northern and western districts of Sa'ada governorate.

Yemeni stone has traits not found elsewhere, in addition to more than 15 colors of Yemeni marble and granite. “Yemeni granite and marble are distinguished by their strength and solidity, which is what we noticed while participating in a bid in Dubai against competitors from Syria, Palestine and Jordan,” Al-Sheleif said.

“In analyzing the stones, we found that the age of the Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian stones was 100 years, while the Yemeni stone was 300 years old,” he added.

However, despite its good quality and large reserves ready for extraction and export, Yemeni decorative stone still faces obstacles in the form of export infrastructure and transportation. “It isn't a big problem,” Al-Sheleif concluded, “it's just a matter of having export roads [from the quarry] for stones, sand and gravel.”