Clement Daka, 40, is a happy man now that a new tile manufacturing plant has been built in Zambia's capital Lusaka. This, said the hardware store manager, will make it easier for his business as he will no longer need to import tiles and other building supplies from China each month.
Chinese company Marco Polo Group, which was commissioned by Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, recently invested $30 million in a porcelain tile manufacturing plant - Marco Polo Tiles Co. Ltd. - which was registered three years ago, as a subsidiary of the Wonderful Group of Companies in Zambia.
Shipping imported goods, such as building materials from China to Zambia, takes two to three months, a situation Daka describes as nerve-wrecking and cumbersome. The new local tile manufacturing plant established in Lusaka's industrial area has now reduced the cost of doing business for retailers dealing in construction materials.
Lower operating costs
Daka, who is proprietor of Let's Build Hardware stores situated in Lusaka's Central Business District, told ChinAfrica that ever since the Marco Polo Tiles manufacturing plant was established, his costs have been reduced tremendously.
"Bringing Marco Polo Tiles manufacturing plant to Zambia is a great idea and this move has really scaled up my working capital, because instead of spending more on excise duty and customs for porcelain tiles from China, I just order from the local plant. This has really helped me save almost 50 percent of what I would pay in import costs as well as on time," said Daka. The two stores Daka manages employ 10 staff.
Like Daka, Janet Kumwenda is a porcelain tile entrepreneur supplying Marco Polo tiles to small hardware stores. She believes that only if Zambia can set up more industries will there be an increase in the number of entrepreneurs as this will help drive Zambia's economy.
"What led me into this business of supplying building materials, such as porcelain tile, to local businesses, was the building of the Marco Polo Tiles manufacturing plant. Not long ago, I used to spend more on importing the materials from China, but now, with the plant just next door, I am able to supply my clientele every week. This has really scaled up my income to an extent where I have even opened my own hardware shop," said Kumwenda.
Kumwenda, a graduate in economics from Cavendish University in Lusaka, said she decided to start her own business of supplying construction materials after she identified the booming construction of various infrastructures coming up across the country.
Zambia is undergoing a construction boom and a number of Chinese construction companies are leading the way in this sector, according to Kumwenda. "The Chinese companies coming to Zambia with high technology and innovative ideas is something we should take advantage of if we are to grow our businesses and create employment," she added.
Clement Daka in one of his hardware shops in Lusaka (DERRICK SILIMINA)
As Zambia promotes industrialization in both light and heavy duty production sectors, the country has also experienced rapid growth in the manufacturing sector.
Marco Polo Tiles CEO Huang Yaochi said the company manufactures top-of-the-range porcelain tiles to service the region.
He said Marco Polo tiles are suitable for both interior and exterior use and high quality is guaranteed.
"We are extremely delighted to be part of the industrialization agenda of this country as this is the only way to grow and strengthen the economy regionally," said Huang.
Technologically, the new equipment being assembled in the plant in Zambia is the most advanced in efficiency and design. It has a state-of-the-art kiln with a capacity of producing 10,000 sheets of 60-square-cm porcelain tiles per eight-hour shift and a laboratory for top quality ceramic, porcelain and marble production.
Huang said currently, the company is offering training to Zambian workers and engineers on how to operate the equipment, like the latest polishing machines.
He explained that Zambia was picked to spearhead the regional hub.
"The new company has already set up sales points in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa, and all raw materials will be sourced from Kapiri Mposhi District, Central Province of Zambia. The company has also stockpiled numerous kaolin, feldspar and talc raw materials, which are in the form of clay and sand.
"We are empowering local people in Kapiri Mposhi," said Huang.
With the high deficit of housing in Zambia, the need to establish more factories like Marco Polo Tiles will surely meet the demands of building materials in the country. Huang said his company is keen to contribute to the development and industrialization of Zambia in a significant manner.
Belt and Road Initiative
The Belt and Road Initiative and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) are now becoming the focus of global attention. Both platforms are anticipated to bolster China-Africa and China-Zambia practical cooperation.
It is envisaged that China's Belt and Road Initiative and FOCAC platforms will help create synergies with the Africa's Agenda 2063 projects, such as the high speed train set to connect major cities and commercial centers across Africa.
President Lungu recently said the Beijing Declaration, the 2019-21 FOCAC Beijing Action Plan, and the eight FOCAC initiatives announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping are designed for win-win cooperation.
"I am therefore pleased to announce that Zambia signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Belt and Road Initiative with China last year. We look forward to the full implementation of this MoU through increased Chinese investment and the implementation of developmental projects," said President Lungu in remarks at the official opening of the Africa-China Think Tank Forum held on May 23-24, 2019, in Lusaka.
"In Zambia, we are encouraging more diversification, value addition and employment from China in line with our Seventh National Development Plan," he added. The forum was themed Africa-China Economic Development Agenda – Opportunities for the Belt and Road Initiative and FOCAC and was co-hosted by the Chinese Embassy in Lusaka along with the Policy Monitoring and Research Center.
President Lungu acknowledged that while China has invested significantly in Africa and is one of Africa's major trading partners, there is room for more investments considering the existing trade and investment opportunities in Africa. Marco Polo Tiles Co. Ltd. is located in Lusaka's Industrial hub. Global trends show that industrialization is the engine that propels economic development of any country and it is therefore the preferred path to genuine development.
The conviction that industrialization will transform the African economies from subsistence, agriculture-based economies to more prosperous and modern economies will help African states achieve their macroeconomic objectives of job creation, increased incomes and higher standard of living, self-reliance and balance of payment stability.
(Reporting from Zambia)
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