Rocks here, rocks there, rocks everywhere - an investment potential in Upper East yet to be fully tapped

BY: Vincent Amenuveve
Mr Peter Ayinbisa, the Bongo DCE
Mr Peter Ayinbisa, the Bongo DCE

One thing that may strike any visitor to the Upper East Region after crossing the tollbooth at Pwalugu in the Talensi District is a quarry known as the Upper Quarry Limited, which is located close to the rocks that stretch up to the famous Tongo Hills area.

This is just a tip of the iceberg because the entire region has a lot to offer in terms of rock exploration and its benefits to both the mining and quarry industries.

Generally, rocks are so common that there is the tendency for some people to disregard their benefits which arguably far outweigh their disadvantages.

Almost every nook and cranny of the region is covered with some rock deposits or formations that create an alluring scenery.
Underlying that beautiful scenery created by the rocks is a lot of treasure which has perhaps not engaged the attention of potential investors.

For now, it will be worthwhile to critically look at what the region stands to gain from the other uses of the rock formation apart from the “obvious” benefits to the mining industry through prospecting and exploration for gold deposits and other mineral deposits currently ongoing.

The Upper East Region is located in the northern part of Ghana and it is one of the 16 administrative regions of the country, occupying a total land surface area of 8,842 square kilometres or 2.7 per cent of the total land area of Ghana.

Types of rocks and zones

The Geological Survey Department (GSD) in Bolgatanga says the geology of Ghana is divided into six main types of units, systems, terrains or series: the Birimian, Voltaian, Tarkwaian, Buem, Togo and the Dahomeyan systems.

There are also three main types of rocks, which are the igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.

Igneous rocks are formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava, while sedimentary rocks are formed through the deposition and solidification of sediments, especially those transported by water (rivers, lakes, and oceans), ice (glaciers), and wind.

The sedimentary rock is often deposited in layers, and frequently contain fossils.

The metamorphic rock arises from the transformation of existing rock types in a process called metamorphism, which means "change in form".

The original rock is subjected to heat and pressure, causing profound physical or chemical change.

The Upper East Region which falls under the Birimian system is made up of a mixture of metamorphosed volcanic, sedimentary and plutonic rocks (a type of igneous rocks that solidify from a melt at great depth and it is later exposed by erosion), low-grade metavolcanics (a type of metamorphic rock first produced by a volcano) and metasediments (a type of sedimentary rock that shows evidence of having been subjected to metamorphism).

Almost half of the terrain consists of alkaline granites (a light-coloured igneous rock with grains large enough to be visible).

The Birimian rocks are major sources of gold and diamonds that extend through Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso.

They are named after the Birim River, one of the main tributaries of the Pra River in Ghana and the country's most important diamond-producing area.

Further checks at the GSD which has done extensive work and research into about 80 per cent of the rocks in the Upper East Region also revealed that the Sandema area in the Builsa North District has granite rocks, while in the Navrongo and Sirigu areas in the Kassena Nankana Municipal and West districts respectively there are clay deposits.

The Chiana, Paga, Bongo and Tongo areas have all been cited as areas that have a big potential for rock exploration.

Geologist

When contacted, a Geologist, Mr Silas Bobi, indicated that “Ghana is generally underlain by Proterozoic rocks. In the geological time scale, the Proterozoic era spans almost two billion years (starting 2.5 billion years ago to 543 million years ago).”

In the Geological time scale, counting is done from the highest or oldest to the lowest or youngest.

Mr Bobi said the earth's estimated age was 4.6 billion years old and constituted one of the oldest rocks.

Proterozoic rocks have been identified on all the continents and often constitute important sources of metallic ores, notably iron, gold, copper, uranium, and nickel. Proterozoic rocks contain many definite traces of primitive life-forms - the fossil remains of bacteria and blue-green algae, among others.

The Birimian system was formed in the early periods of the Proterozoic era. In Ghana, the Birimian is the source of gold and diamonds among other precious metals.

Benefits, uses

The Geologist further indicated that there was the need to concentrate on the industrial type of minerals that are abundant in the region such as the clay, sand and granite.

He explained that the region had a lot of granite which could be polished into tiles and monuments.

The granites could also be used to construct roads.

“A polished natural granite is more expensive than a regular tile and the region can make a lot of money from it," Mr Bobi further stated and noted that the clay deposits could be used for bricks and ceramics while kaolin, a type of clay found in nature, could be used for paint and medicines.

Other benefits of rocks include the production of cement derived from limestone, chalk, sandstone for building materials and bath scrub as well as gravels for road construction.

Economic mineral deposits such as gold, diamond, and manganese can be found in some of the rocks.

The Upper East Region also has many rock sites that serve as tourist attractions.

He added that the region had to explore and possibly develop its “Radio Active Rocks" potential.

He explained that some of the naturally occurring elements within the rocks could be used to produce nuclear energy.

He maintained that those types of rocks when fully developed could be exported.

Mr Bobi also noted that the radioactive rocks could be harmful to human health, which was enough reason for more to be done in that regard.

Additionally, naturally occurring compounds of fluoride, arsenic and nitrate in rocks could also be harmful when they got dissolved in drinking water and that, he noted, brought into sharp focus the high fluoride content that was found in water in the Bongo area.

High fluoride in water can lead to dental fluorosis or skeletal fluorosis, which can damage bones and joints.

The Bongo District Chief Executive, Mr Peter Ayinbisa, for his part stated that investors were needed in the district to help develop the cement industry, ceramic tiles and roofing sectors.

He intimated that studies had shown that the rocks around the Zorkor area in the Bongo District could be used to produce cement while the huge deposits of clay in Bongo could also be used to produce roofing and ceramic tiles for the next 42 years.

Pwalugu Rocks & Upper Quarry

Among all the existing quarries, Upper Quarry Limited was the first to be established in the region in October 1980. However, commercial operation started in 1983.

Documents available at the Upper Quarry have revealed that the major rock outcrop in the Pwalugu area is made up of muscovite-biotite (a clear, silvery, or coppery silver in colour and black) granite rock and its uses are as follows: Dimension stone- this type of stone is not yet popular in Ghana due apparently to the cost involved in processing it into a finished product.

Ornamental stone - this is a beautiful black and white colour of the granite stone with streaks of pink feldspar (a type of mineral found in rocks) for ornamental stone.

Although it is expensive to produce, it is still cheaper than purchasing and transporting marbles from Italy to Ghana.

Crushed and broken stone - these are crushed and broken granites that provide aggregate for concrete and it is also suitable for road surfacing material. It is a common raw material for the construction industry and it can also be used in terrazzo works.

Marble - this type has great economic potential in the West African sub region. Research findings have established that the Pwalugu granite has the required qualities for processing marble for the local and export markets.

Industrial minerals
Checks at the Minerals Commission (MC) at Bolgatanga also revealed that so far there are six quarry companies in the North East and the Upper East regions.
They are the Adom and the Arigu quarries in the North East Region, MyTurn Quarry at Chuchuliga, the Upper Quarry and Mawums Quarry both at Pwalugu and one at Bazua in the Binduri district.
Records at the MC also show that findings of a research have identified the Chiana, Naaga, Bongo and Talensi areas as having huge potential for industrial mineral deposits. The research also recommended and encouraged investors to take advantage of the potential the region has in the area of industrial minerals to invest.

Capital intensive

The business of quarry is highly capital intensive.

A 2019 project appraisal and impact assessment of what an investor needs to be able to site a quarry industry in the region available at the MC showed that a total of GH¢5,597,900 will be required to establish that industry.

The amount includes plant machinery, working capital, intangible assets, acquisition of land, office equipment and buildings, among other things.

Checks at the Upper Quarry Limited also revealed that a minimum of US$2 million is required to establish and operate a quarry. Additionally, an investor needs to inject capital into the business every five to 10 years to replace key machinery.

Challenges

Mr Bobi opined that apart from the huge resources that a prospective investor would be required to sink into mining for the industrial minerals in the region, there were also other factors that affected the siting of industries to mine industrial minerals in the region.

They include a delay in the development of the road and transportation network including rail lines for the region, and insufficient energy or power framework for mining industries to use.

He observed that most investors preferred establishing their industries closer to where the raw materials were located as well as where there is easy transportation to the market.

The investors also put into consideration the distance and cost of transporting the raw materials from the north to the south for export.

Mr Bobi also stated that the geographical location of the region was a factor because when the colonial masters came, they settled and started trading and later prospected the mineral deposits in southern Ghana.

There was little extensive exploration of the mineral deposits in the north. He, however, pointed out that the Germans were the first to prospect and mine at Nangodi in the Nabdam district many years ago.

Prospects

In spite of the challenges the region faces in developing and marketing the industrial minerals, there are prospects.

According to management of the Upper Quarry Limited, in the past patronage of aggregate chippings was heavily dependent on Ghana government-awarded contracts, with few private developers utilising the products.

Twenty years later, after the establishment of the Upper Quarry, the demand for quarry products increased significantly due to the growing Ghanaian economy.

This led to the establishment of other quarries. It is, however, important to note that some challenges persist in the area of acquisition of heavy equipment to produce and meet the market demand.