After a break of 20 years, Afghanistan’s first cement factory is again cranking into action in the countryside near the capital, Kabul.
In an area desperately short of industry and jobs, workers hope the relaunch of the plant, built by Czech engineers in 1957 and shut by the Taliban in 1995, heralds the revival of an industry shattered by decades of war and destruction.
“By selling our products and improving the factory’s production, we can avoid having our young generation go abroad,” says Amir Mohammad. “If there are job possibilities, they can stay with their families and look after their children.”
But the outdated state-owned plant also shows how far there is to go before that promise can be achieved. The cement factory employs 150 workers and has a daily capacity of 100 tonnes but uses equipment that is at least 40 years out of date.
“We’ve tried our best and got the factory running using its old machinery,” says Abdul Wakil, one of a group of former workers who have returned to help get the plant working again. “As long as we have electricity, it will work.”
Talks with a private operator to develop a separate, larger plant have run on for months. Afghanistan’s only other major cement manufacturer, the Ghori cement plant, has a daily capacity of more than 1000 tonnes, but domestic industry is dwarfed by the millions of tonnes of imports from neighbours, including Pakistan and Iran. That fierce competition makes it tough to find domestically produced cement in Kabul’s main wholesale markets.
Demand for building materials has fallen sharply since international forces left in 2014 but the market has not collapsed and Mohammad hopes for domestic growth.
“There is huge demand for cement in Afghanistan,” he said. “We’ve got the factory working, so it will give investors a chance.”