Clay has been found to be a very useful industrial material throughout the world. Experts have said all the regions in Ghana are endowed with clay, and that there are over 20 types of clay in the country. Unfortunately, the country imports large quantities of ceramic products in the form of floor pots, wall tiles, dining plates and handwashing basins among other items.
Regions such as the Volta, Western, Ashanti and Eastern are said to have white clay deposits, and these clay deposits occupy more than 1.0 million cubic yards of the land.
Apart from clay products such as clay stoves, flower pots and clay plates for grinding, Ghana has not been able to put these clay deposits into good use for commercial gains.
Lately, some mineral experts are pushing that the country begins to harness the potential of clay as another cash cow for the country.
Exploring clay potential
Subsequently, the Geological Survey Department (GSD) has begun a physical and chemical analysis to ascertain the different types of clay that abound in every region in Ghana.
The department is responsible for the provision of reliable and up-to-date geological information for national development through geological mapping, research and investigations.
A Senior Technical Advisor at the GSD, Ms Bernice Derry, said clay was a precious mineral that Ghana could make adequate use of and benefit immensely from.
"We import crucibles and other clay-based items whereas we have the natural raw material here as clay. It will fetch us more money than we are always importing,” she said in an interview in Accra.
She indicated that all the regions were endowed with clay, with the predominant one including the earthenware clay (comes in brown, ash, red, etc.) and kaolin (white clay normally used for chalk production). Depending on how deep one digs a pit, several clays can be found for different uses.
Ms Dery said there was more into clay than people thought; there was a lot clay could be used for, but it seemed all the focus was on gold and not clay.
“Even in our homes, the water closets (WC), baths that we use are all clay. The only difference is that theirs is porcelain (which goes into a higher temperature) and ours is earthenware. We can also do the WC with earthenware,” she explained.
She said the clay section at GSD had been embarking on outreach campaigns to showcase and give information about the potential of clay through exhibitions but it was yet to sink.
“You realise that change of mind is a big thing for us Ghanaians and that’s the setback,” she lamented.
However, she said some individuals who had bought into it had made a lifetime business from it and were benefiting from it.
“Everything about clay is unique but it looks as if we see it to be dirty and so we do not see the good things in it, we have neglected it. When used for beads it easily sells out on the market because it is long-lasting (can last over 10 years),” she emphasised.
Ms Dery said it was about time the authorities shifted from the sole focus on gold to clay, as it was equally a wonderful mineral given to us by God.
“If only we can explore and promote clay, we will realise that it can be an additional source of revenue such that we may not bother to take loans. Most of the things we import, such as the gypsum (for PoP) and electrical porcelain (plugs etc.), we have the deposits in Ghana,” she suggested.
She added that if the government should provide the needed machinery for clay processing, it would create employment for the younger ones.
Some analysts have said that Ghana can take advantage of the clay resource to build more durable and affordable houses to reduce the 1.7 million housing deficit. They argue that clay could be moulded and heated in the kiln into hard-burnt bricks for building construction and must not be left unexploited.
“It should not be lost on anybody that developing the clay production industry will create job opportunities, create wealth for the people and grow the economy. It is an important sector that should engage priority attention under the government's one-district, one-factory policy,” an expert said.
Others think the government should offer special incentive packages for entrepreneurs who will be interested in developing the clay industry. To them, effort must be made to reduce the quantity of clay products imported into the country in order to create market for local entrepreneurs.
A Policy Analyst with the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), a public policy research and advocacy organisation, Dr Steve Manteaw, corroborated that clay held the potential for generating huge foreign exchange for the country.
He deduced that the development of a local economic and growth strategy for some districts in the Western Region showed the huge deposits of clay in those areas, which are homes to most of the thermal plants, offered an opportunity to access low cost fuel for the production and exploitation of their clay resources into ceramics and tiles.
Already, he said two Chinese companies were taking advantage of the cheap gas from the Atuabo Gas Processing facility to generate their own power to produce tiles and ceramic bowls.
“I think that Ghana has the potential to export tiles and sanitary ware to West Africa and beyond to earn foreign exchange. The focus of the two companies is the Ghanaian market, but should other potential areas come on stream, they may be able to exceed the domestic demand and look at outside market,” he indicated.
A former Chief Executive of the Ghana Chamber of Mines, Rev. Dr Joyce Aryee, has said the Minerals Commission should promote clay as a viable part of mining.
“When people always come for gold, we should tell them to go and mine clay because that goes directly into the economy,” she said.
Minerals in Ghana
The Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) Framework states that Ghana is well endowed with substantial mineral resources, the major ones being gold, diamond, manganese and bauxite. Gold is the predominant mineral produced in the country, accounting for over 90 per cent of all mineral revenues annually over the past two decades.
The country is also endowed with unexploited deposits of iron ore, limestone, brown clays, kaolin, mica, columbite-tantalite, feldspar, silica sand, quartz, salt etc. Occurrences of ilmenite, magnetite and rutile have also been documented.
Some of these industrial minerals – brown clays, kaolin and silica sand - are being exploited on small scale to supply local industries in ceramic, paint and glass manufacturing respectively.
The Minerals Commission Act, 1993 (Act 450) establishes the Minerals Commission pursuant to Article 269(1) of the 1992 Constitution.
Generally, it is responsible for the regulation and management of the utilisation of the mineral resources of Ghana and the coordination of the policies in relation to them.