Hidden in the rugged Hindu Kush and the Pamir mountain ranges of Afghanistan, there’ a great wealth of mineral resources: deposits of some of the world’s finest marble.

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Despite Afghanistan’s years of political instability, international investors and consumers are increasingly recognizing the business opportunities present in marble quarrying. While challenges to the industry’s development remain, a newly reinvigorated private sector – empowered and coordinated through a national marble association – and a supportive national government have taken early, positive steps to effectively address them.

Afghanistan’s 60 known deposits of dimensional stone consist of 35 varieties quarried in more than 40 different colors. Among the many fine varieties available, the fine-grained Afghan white marbles of Chest-e-Sharif and Khogiani are favorably compared to Italian Carrara marble. These plentiful deposits have the capacity to support the expansion of existing mines and the establishment of many more quarry sites across Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s advantageous proximity to the growing markets of China, the Indian sub-continent and the Persian Gulf presents significant medium- and long-term opportunities in the regional and global marketplaces. However, at present, this underdeveloped sector comprises only one percent of Afghanistan’s GNP.

A significant amount of Afghan marble is exported as rough-hewn blocks and is often re-imported as higher-value polished marble products from neighboring countries such as Pakistan. Limited domestic processing capacity limits Afghanistan’s share of the higher profits generated through sales of finished marble products.

The use of explosives in many of Afghanistan’s marble quarries, which is dangerous for laborers and damaging to the marble resources, wastes around 25 percent of the total value of production. The lack of proper equipment and technical knowledge means that poor extraction methods are the norm, which often degrades the value of the marble. Modern extraction methods could allow existing quarries to begin producing higher quantity and quality from known deposits, some of which already command top prices from buyers in Dubai, Kuwait and Lebanon.
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There are also pressing needs for greater legal and regulatory reform, additional equity-and-debt investments, and improved power and transportation infrastructure. With sufficient investment in technical training and equipment, the marble industry in Afghanistan can be a major regional supplier and driver of domestic economic growth.

Through the work of the Afghanistan Marble and Granite Processors Association (AMGPA) and international donor partners, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), investment and capacity building projects are helping to modernize the available equipment, improve extraction practices, and lobby the government for more business-friendly regulation and improved infrastructure.

Through direct work with the government, international donors and the private sector, the AMGPA aspires to increase adoption of new technology and machinery to lead to the greater processing and export of stone meeting international standards. The AMGPA has more than 100 members united in this goal.

In late March 2009, AMGPA hosted the Afghan Marble and Stone Conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. The three-day conference was organized by the USAID’s Small and Medium Enterprise Development project (ASMED), the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the AMGPA. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Afghanistan Investment and Reconstruction Task Force (AIRTF) helped to promote the event to industry leaders in the the United States.

The event brought together a broad array of private sector firms, international financers, marble and stone industry experts, government agencies and marble industry associations from around the world. Of particular note, investors from the United States and Jordan visited quarry sites and processing facilities in two of Afghanistan’s regions.

The Afghan firms were thrilled to welcome. Jim Hogan, senior vice president of Carrara Marble Company of America Inc. and former president of the Marble Institute of America. The conference attendees were honored by the participation of the Minister of Mines, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Commerce, and the leaders of the Afghan Export Promotion and Investment Support agencies.

Italian Ambassador Claudio Glaentzer described the upcoming cooperation offered by Confindustria Marmomacchine (the leading marble industry association), including participation in master training and business matchmaking events. USAID Mission Director Michael Yates pledged continued support through the ASMED project.

The Afghan Marble Conference will reconvene next March in the western region of Herat, the most advanced quarrying area of Afghanistan.