Jordan draws its commercial success from limestone riches

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Karak (Jordan) (AFP) – Long before whiteboards, projectors and laptops entered modern school classrooms, teachers relied on the humble, dusty and sometimes garish blackboard chalk – a material that created a Jordanian business success.

Chemical engineer Salah Aloqbi remembers sitting on a bus in Amman in 1995 when he had the idea that led him to start his company. More than two decades later, it has 150 employees and exports to more than 100 countries.

Chalk, a soft white limestone, was formed eons ago when the shells of tiny sea creatures were compressed onto the seabed – and Jordan, a landlocked desert country in the Middle East, is blessed with vast deposits .

“It was a game-changing idea,” recalls Aloqbi, now 49, who founded the Jordan Chalk Manufacturing Company.

The company provides jobs in demand in a country where the unemployment rate soared to 25% last year, about the same as the poverty rate Khalil MAZRAAWIAFP

“I was returning from work at the Jordan Carbonate Company when I heard a radio interview saying that the calcium carbonate produced by the company was used in various industries in Jordan, except for the chalk industry .”

Aloqbi thought about how to make blackboard chalk, which until then was entirely imported, to get extra value from calcium carbonate which is also used to produce white cement, make soils less acidic and toothpaste more abrasive.

Seven years later, he launched a small factory in Karak Governorate, south of Amman, with two rooms and just five workers, and began experimenting – first pulverizing the porous material with a meat grinder .

Salah Oqbi, founder and owner of the Jordan Chalk Manufacturing Company
Salah Oqbi, founder and owner of the Jordan Chalk Manufacturing Company Khalil MAZRAAWIAFP

“But the chalk we were producing at that time was no longer used in the world, so we decided to produce dust-free medical chalk,” he said, referring to a carbonate-based type with larger particles.

The good thing

Some 2,149 attempts later, the businessman said proudly, he had found the right formula for dust-free chalk, creating a “very strong export opportunity” which now sees his company producing 10 billion pieces per year. year.

A worker carries chalk products in the business that started years ago with just two rooms and just five employees
A worker carries chalk products in the business that started years ago with just two rooms and just five employees Khalil MAZRAAWIAFP

Jordan has an almost endless supply of raw material, with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources estimating that “the country’s limestone assets exceed 1.3 billion metric tons”.

Limestone is the common form of calcium carbonate CaCO3, the main ingredient in chalk.

“It occurs to me that this is an outdated product, but the truth is that we are struggling to keep up with the high demand,” Aloqbi said as he inspected hundreds of boxes at destination of Great Britain and Germany, Mali and Morocco.

Chalk Pieces are available in a wide color palette and are used for art and play around the world.
Chalk Pieces are available in a wide color palette and are used for art and play around the world. Khalil MAZRAAWIAFP

Chalk Pieces are available in a wide color palette and are used for art and play around the world.

The company has also branched out into colored pencils and modeling clay, and is the only producer of chalk sticks in the country.

Today, the company sits on 7,500 square meters of land and provides much-needed jobs in a country where the unemployment rate soared to 25% last year, roughly the same poverty rate.

“Most of us come from villages in Karak governorate,” said employee Sundus Majali, 28. “More than half of the workers are women.”

The chalk was formed eons ago when the shells of tiny sea creatures were compressed to the sea floor - and the landlocked desert country of Jordan is blessed with vast deposits
The chalk was formed eons ago when the shells of tiny sea creatures were compressed to the sea floor – and the landlocked desert country of Jordan is blessed with vast deposits Khalil MAZRAAWIAFP

At the beginning, she says, “it was difficult for the parents to allow the women to work… But now they have no problem with it, especially because the factory is safe, not like other places of work”.

Another colleague, Alaa Aloqbi, 33, said “the factory provided job opportunities at a time when life was getting tough.”

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