Quality control, value addition, precision and efficiency required for growth

By Syed M. Aslam
Aug 04 - 10, 1997

Though nature has gifted Pakistan not only with large deposits, but also with some of the best quality marble, onyx and granite, the marble industry has failed to exploit the real potential.

Years of neglect on the part of the successive governments, outdated extraction methods and lack of modern manufacturing facilities have taken their toll on the marble sector which, despite being accorded the status of industry over a decade ago, has not only failed to develop on organised lines, but is also facing a crisis at present.

Though the extraction of marble has increased 155-fold from 3,000 tonnes in 1959-60 to 467,000 tonnes in 1994-95, extraction and export in the last few years show a declining trend for the industry which contributed a negligible 0.13 per cent to the overall exports in 1995-96. See Tables 1 and 2.

Furthermore, the lack of quality control has resulted in wide variation in export prices — 12,719 metric tonnes of marble and stone exports fetched $2.285 million in 1993-94 while over seven-fold increase in the quantity in 1994-95 depicted only a 50 per cent increase in the value in 1994-95.

PAGE talked to a number of major players in the quarrying and extraction as well as manufacturing business of marble and onyx industry. There seems to be a consensus in the industry that much needs to be done to develop the industry on organised lines which is not possible without the support of the government.

While onyx is only found in Balochistan, marble is found in the northern North West Frontier Province, Sindh and Balochistan. Onyx is primarily used in the manufacture of handicrafts while the comparatively harder marble and granite are mostly used in the construction industry.

While the price of marble, granite and onyx is largely governed by the colour, pattern, texture, hardness and resistance to environmental change, the size of the rock also results in added value.

While internationally the quarrying machinery consists of drilling, wedging and splitting equipment, use of outdated extraction methods here in Pakistan results in considerable waste.

Extraction in Pakistan comprises boring of holes in the bed rock which are filled with explosives to blast the rock. This results not only in a high, 35 per cent, wastage, but also in smaller stone size which substantially reduces the price which is directly proportional to size. In addition, this also limits the scope of value addition in certain high priced products as table tops, flower vases, table lamps, etc. As the raw stone is sold by weight to the processing companies, whose product size is consequently smaller, it deprives the miners of a substantial amount of money.

The extraction method used in Pakistan is totally opposite to the modern method which consists of drilling holes around the optimal block size and the use of hydraulic jacks and splitting equipment to prise the block out of the bed rock. The block size and shape of the rock are thus more controlled and the wastage is minimised to less than seven per cent.

Talking to PAGE, Farhana, of Zafar Marbles, a company engaged in extraction and manufacture of onyx handicrafts, said that quarrying and extraction were being carried out manually in Pakistan as the modern methods were cost intensive.

It was not possible for the extractors to import modern machinery which costs millions of rupees, she said. Furthermore, the absence of such basic infrastructure as roads, electricity, running water, etc, at the extraction sites, the majority of which are located in the remote areas, was also a major impediment to boosting the mining activities in the country, she added.

For instance, she said, most of the mines were located near the Iran-Balochistan border and the lack of these facilities posed undue problems. All these factors have increased the extraction cost in Pakistan to such an extent that today it has rendered the local production un-competitive in the international market. So much so that today imported marble is cheaper than the local material.

The complete neglect that the industry faces was obvious from the fact that except for the water cascade, which was constructed from local marble from Chitral, imported Italian marble was used at the Jinnah Terminal at Karachi, she disclosed. This was done despite the fact that the local marble was not only cheaper, but also of the better quality than the imports, she added.

She, however, expressed relief that the Nawaz Sharif government was attaching top priority to have the economy moving and that marble industry would be accorded the attention that it deserved for the benefit of the local industry.

The Vice-Chairman of All Pakistan Marble Industries Association, Karachi Zone, Abdul Ghafoor, attributed the low extraction and demand to the poor law and order situation and uncertain power supply. Who would like to invest in extraction machinery which costs millions of rupees and manufacturing machinery the price of which runs into tens of thousands, when these could be destroyed due to voltage that fluctuates regularly.

For instance, he said, an imported cutting machine used in manufacturing costs Rs 10 million, and though the locally manufactured machine is available for Rs 1-1.2 million it is of inferior quality and fails to maintain quality; which is a severe blow to Pakistani exports in the quality-conscious international market comprising such developed nations as the US, Germany, Korea, etc, he added.

He said that in recent years not only the exports have bottomed out in such traditional markets as Korea, Japan and the US, but the law and order situation has also hurt the local market, as foreign visitors are the major buyers of marble and onyx products. In addition, the construction has slowed down with the change of government in February and the lull has resulted in decreased demand of marble blocks, tiles and chips nation-wide, he added.

Nizam of Panorama Marble, a local manufacturer and exporter of onyx handicrafts, said that the failure of mining sector resulting in huge wastage and smaller stone size limited the scope of value-addition in onyx.

He said the political and economic conditions resulted in decreased export to Korea which emerged as one of the major destinations of Pakistani exports in recent years. In addition, exports to the traditional market in Japan also declined over the years due to, what he called, "the over exposure."

The lack of quality control due to absence of modern extraction methods and lack of precision machinery at the manufacturing stage, added to the shrinking of the traditional markets, created a crisis in the local marble and related industries. He expressed apprehensions that the situation would get worse unless the government took necessary measures on top priority basis to avert the crisis.

He lamented that the genuine manufacturers were not promoted by the Export Promotion Bureau which prefers to take the jobbers to international exhibitions. With no more funds available with the EPB, the genuine manufacturers do not even have the remotest chance to get promoted at the international exhibitions, he added.

The director of PakArts, a local manufacturer and exporter of handicrafts, said that Italy, Taiwan and China which import Pakistani marble and onyx due to better value-addition technology were able to fetch better prices in the international market and thus have become a major competitor of exports from Pakistan.

He said that Pakistan did not stand a chance to compete with these competitors who used latest computerised machines for manufacture of blocks, tiles and handicrafts. The majority of handicraft work is still done on obsolete lathe machines in Pakistan which results not only in poor precision but also wastage, he added.

He said that while India could not compete with Pakistan in onyx handicrafts as it has no onyx, it is leading Pakistan in marble exports.

The exporters of marble and stones and handicrafts get only 1.5 per cent rebate on their exports, which is negligible compared to the rabate given to other sectors which runs from 40 per cent to 100 per cent, he added.

Sources also said that the majority of the mines were owned by the tribal chiefs who were given the extraction licences purely on the political considerations. For years the licences were given to a chosen few people and it was impossible for the investors in the private sector, even if they could succeed in getting a licence, to carry out the quarrying and extraction works for fear of safety, he added.

Observers say that the marble market is plagued by long delays between orders and delivery, unreliable supply and low quality, as the marble industry is primarily dominated by a very small number of operators using crude quarrying methods.


The technology used in the cutting and polishing of marble is basically the same as that used for cutting most other stones, except granite. The latter has a density of nine tonnes per cubic metre compared to 2.7 tonnes per cubic metre for marble.

The stone-cutting process consists of fixing the raw stone on a trolley set on four steel columns. A ‘gang saw’ unit comprising multiple blades, anchored to the columns, cuts the stone into slabs of prescribed thickness. A 60-blade gang saw produces an average of 59 slabs while the two end pieces are wasted. The shape and size of the slabs vary according to the shape of the original stone.

Though less expensive, the locally manufactured cutting machines have only 40-45 blades which not only fail to perform a precision cutting job resulting in inconsistent thickness, particularly of marble tiles which fail to measure up to international standard, but also have lesser productivity.


Generally speaking, the purer the chemical composition of the marble the whiter and more expensive it is. There are many varieties of marble and onyx, and certain veined marbles are preferred by architects on aesthetic grounds. Size is a major determinant of prices with larger finished products which command higher prices. Four varieties of onyx are produced in Pakistan, the prices of which range from Rs 2,500 to Rs 10,000 per tonne which increases with the darkness of colour — light green being the least and dark green being the most expensive. The prices of the various varieties of marble produced are given in Table 3. The prices fluctuate widely depending on the demand.

Pampokhan and Mallagori marbles are expensive because of their white colour and consistent grain size. Locally, at the retail stage, the marbles are graded into four basic grades: Super, which is the whitest; A; B and C.


The bulk of export from Pakistan is dominated by onyx handicrafts and much is needed to boost the export of marble tiles and stone.

As mentioned above the bulk of the marble is used in the construction industry, both locally and outside. The lack of precision-manufacturing and polishing machinery and an overall disintegration in the marble industry, at all stages, is the major deterrent to expansion of the export base.

Most international trade in marble is either in the form of finished, cut, ready-to-install blocks, or blocks which are suitable for finishing into cut and dressed stone. Only the more expensive white marble like Mallagori can play a prominent role in the international trade. The bulk of marble trade is conducted with affluent Western Europe and North America.

Italy dominates the international marble trade and is the leading importer of rough blocks and the leading exporter of finished stone. It is also the leading quarrier of marble and travertine (a white or light coloured marble from Tivoli near Rome).

Portugal is the second-largest producer of marble, mostly the coloured varieties.

The marble processing industry in Pakistan is around 33 years old and the first major marble deposits were discovered at Mallagori and Swabi in the NWFP. In the last 15 years, a number of processing units were set up in the country, the majority of which use locally manufactured machinery.

Just a few years ago, the domestic marble market was dominated by five relatively large players, Indus Marble, Peshawar, and Mustafa Marble, National Marble, Pak-Rock Mining and Habibullah, in Karachi. Except for Habibullah, the rest of the four units have since been closed down.


Compared to onyx — about 80 per cent of which is used in the manufacture of handicrafts and the rest in tiles and chips — 80-90 per cent of the marble is used in the construction industry and the rest in the manufacture of handicrafts.

While onyx handicrafts primarily target the foreign markets, and buyers, the marble industry enjoyed strong domestic demand due to expansion in new residential and commercial construction activities. And though there has been a substantial decline in the demand of marble due to a decreased construction activities, observers feel that it is only temporary and would pick up within the next few months.

Due to the hot climate people prefer to use marble for flooring. In addition to the typical use in the housing sector, marble, being less expensive than granite, is also extensively used as cladding — covering of tiles fixed to the outside of the building to cover it against bad weather or to make it look more attractive — for high quality commercial buildings where its maintenance-free aspect obviates the need to paint.

The bulk of marble is processed in the shape of tiles, slabs and table tops. Observers say that the demand for marble and marble products is expected to keep growing in the local market primarily because of rise in standard of living, expansion in housing projects due to growing urbanisation, and growth in commercial and industrial construction.

However, the absence of modern extraction technology and manufacturing poses a threat for exports which would not pick-up unless and until the local manufacturing meets the strict quality standard in the affluent international markets, they added.

It is felt that the real constraint on quarrying and extraction activities — allocation of licences only to selected few and that too based on political considerations — limits the potential of exploration of marble reserves and quarry development.

It is imperative that procedure to get the new leases from the government be simplified, which at present is a lengthy and difficult process.

Pakistan produces marble, onyx and granite and has huge deposits of these stones, the quality of many varieties of which is second to none anywhere in the world.


Marble is any limestone which is hard enough to take polish. It is used as construction material for buildings and interiors, and for manufacture of handicrafts. The finest marble is white and all varieties are composed of crystals of mineral calcite or dolomite, which are perfectly white when pure. Black, grey, pink, red, green, and various other kinds of marble is used in buildings and monuments.

Geologically, marble is limestone that has been metamorphosed (changed) by heat far below the surface of the earth. The process of metamorphism makes marble harder, freeing it from small cavities and pores. Thus marble takes a higher polish and is preferred both by the sculptors and architects.

Ancient peoples made their finest buildings with either granite or marble. For instance the Egyptians worked chiefly with granite and Greeks with marble. Romans also used marble with great skill.

The most famous quarries for marble are Carrara, Italy, which have been used since the time of Emperor Augustus. The finest quarries were discovered later and were made famous by great sculptors Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo. The Carrara district in northern Italy still produces the world’s most famous marble.


It is a fine-grained variety of quartz and the name is derived from the Greek word which means ‘fingernail’ to indicate the sharply contrasting bands of colour in the stone.

Onyx is strong and takes a high polish. The colour of onyx marble varies from white to green, red and brown. Much of this soft onyx marble is cut into gemstones, coloured and set into inexpensive jewellery. It is also used as a decorative stone in which form it has its major market in Pakistan.


It is a hard crystalline rock made up chiefly of mineral crystals such as quartz and feldspar, and a few dark-coloured minerals.

Granite is light-coloured and its crystals are large enough to be seen with the naked eye, like polished surfaces of granite blocks used in monuments and buildings.

Granite is used in the construction of buildings and bridges due to the valuable support that it offers where great strength is needed, as it can withstand a pressure of 15,000-20,000 pounds per square inch. It is used for monuments as it can be polished and is hard enough not to be easily damaged. Carvings and inscriptions on granite withstand weather for hundreds of years.



Price (Rs per tonne)

Nowshera Pink 800-1,000
Black Gold (Jamrud) 1,300
Oceanic (Lasbella) 1,000-1,500
Plain Gold, Souda (Sindh) 500-600
Trevira (Lasbella) 900-1,200
Boticino (Lasbella) 1,500-2,000
Pampokhan, NWFP Above 2,400
Badal (NWFP) 1,000
Mallagori (NWFP) 4,000





Quantity (tonnes)

1989-90 267,000
1990-91 281,000
1991-92 321,000
1992-93 388,000
1993-94 460,000
1994-95 467,000
1995-96 458,000
1996-97 (July-March) 360,000



Export (value in millions of dollars)

Year Marble & Stone Onyx manufactured Total
1993-94 2.285 9.855 12.14
1994-95 3.408 9.803 13.21
1995-96 3.129 8.632 11.76