Soapstone industry suffers as Corona virus grabs headlines

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The Coronavirus spread has hit many sectors of the economy, among them Kisii’s soapstone industry.

A spot-check by this writer at Tabaka area of South Mugirango which is the bedrock of the sector established that many dealers had indefinitely closed their shops due to the crisis.

In their good days, the traders export their items and fetch at least Sh300 Million annually from the world market. 

The sector employs miners, carvers, painters, among other personnel, who now have little to do due to the diminished demand for their produce.

Daniel  Apepo who is one of the key soapstone traders  said that the economy  of the  country  faces a bleak future unless the virus is contained.

Mr Apepo  said that they majorly  depend  on the  European  countries  where  they  export  their  products  to.

“Most of the people who depend on these soapstone products have closed down, since there is no business, “he said 

He stated that they export 90% of the products to European countries and 10 % to the local market.

He noted that the products which were ordered to be shipped on the 15th of this month were cancelled last week due to health scare.

Mr Apepo said he has been forced to send at least 46 workers home since there is no business at all. 

He said he receives at least 100 international guests and ships tonnes of curio products to different counties. 

“My major clients are from China, Sweden, UK USA, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Spain whereby they have all cancelled their orders. 

He said the effect is real in the country’s economy and he has already felt it in a hard way. 

He at the same time asked bankers to meet with the business community and resolve to hold on the interest rates as most businesses which depend on financial institutions may not be able to service their loans in the prevailing environment. 

Mr Apepo  pleaded to the    Central  Bank  of Kenya  to negotiate  with the  banks  to stop  or waive  interest  rate. 

“We hope this virus will end soon and things will go back to normal. Majority of South Mugirango constituents depend on this sector,” he said.

Norah Kwamboka, a worker at one of the stalls said her family depended on the little income she got by carving this soapstone whose main buyers have cancelled their trips. 

“We pray for the government to find ways of ending this epidemic so that normalcy is restored,” said kwamboka.

Risper Rabera, another worker, is worried where she would get rent and food to sustain her family.

Mr Apepo expressed fears that crime is going to be high since most of the traders have been forced to reduce number of workers.

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