‘Fracking’ permite resucitar la industria de la “goma guar” en la India

2 Oct , 2013
Víctor Mallet
Financial Times  

Se trata de una industria que genera un producto denominado “goma guar”, que está hecho de una variedad de frijol cultivado en el semi- desierto de Rajasthan, en el oeste de la India. Se vende como un polvo blanco para su uso para la unión en los alimentos y productos farmacéuticos, pero también se puede utilizar para añadir viscosidad al fluido de la bomba utilizada para realizar el ‘Fracking’.

En menos de un año se producirán 36.000 toneladas de este producto, lo que potenciará el crecimiento del sector industrial. Sin embargo, su precio aumentó un 900% en un año y temen un exceso de oferta en el futuro.

La nota en Financial Times:

They say timing is everything in business, and the Indian guar gum producers who invested in new capacity early last year – just as the US fracking business realised it needed thousands of tonnes of the stuff in a hurry – either got lucky or timed their market entry to perfection. But is the multi-billion dollar boom in this once obscure commodity now over?

Not according to Bheru Jain and S.N. Dhoot, chief executive and managing director respectively of Rajasthan Gum, a joint venture between the Dhoot family and Economy Polymers and Chemicals of Houston, Texas. Rajasthan Gum is one of India’s biggest exporters.

True, the tenfold increase in prices in 2012 has been mostly reversed but, in rupees, guar gum still sells at three times the old price that prevailed for two decades until 2010 and the US fracking bonanza.

“We think the market will come back again,” says Jain, showing the FT around a 36,000-tonnes a year factory opened in 2012 in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Jodhpur. “This is a good cash crop,” agrees Dhoot. “This technology [fracking] is spreading all over the world.”

Guar gum is made from a variety of bean grown in the semi-desert of Rajasthan in western India and is sold as a white powder for use as a binding agent in foods and pharmaceuticals – and to add viscosity to the fluid that frackers pump down their wells to squeeze out oil and gas from underground. The beans are also eaten as a vegetable but market forces have encouraged the region’s thousands of small farmers to send as many as possible for processing.

As the FT’s trade guru Shawn Donnan wrote recently in an analysis of US trade data:

The largest import shift was in miscellaneous vegetable substances; imports in this sector increased by 115 per cent to approximately $5bn in 2012. This shift was mainly due to an increase of more than 250 per cent in the value of US imports of guar gum from India, which is the source of about 80 per cent of the world’s guar gum… The rise in US imports of guar gum in 2012 was the result of a buildup of stocks by US shale-gas companies that feared a shortage due to an ongoing drought in India’s main growing region. This increased demand, plus a speculative bubble, drove the price of guar gum up by 900 per cent in 2012.

Producers are worried that the price spike gave new impetus to US researchers seeking a synthetic and cheaper alternative to guar gum but Rajasthan Gum’s executives think current prices of around Rs170 ($2.73) per kg for “guar gum split” (the inner part of the bean that is ground into powder) are “reasonable” enough to avert that danger.

There is a risk of a glut, with new growers adopting the crop in provinces such as Haryana and Punjab and those in nearby Gujarat using irrigation to grow two crops a year instead of one. New processors have flocked to the market too over the past two years, and Jain says India’s industrial capacity is now well over 1m tonnes when demand is only about 400,000 tonnes.

But the timing of expansion plans at Rajasthan Gum, which employs 250 people at its five plants, has in some ways been impeccable. The new factory almost doubled the company’s output and began production in February last year, after the price for split guar gum seeds had broken out of its old range of around Rs50 a kg and was on the rise.

“The price went to Rs1,000 a kilo in March,” says Jain. So people got rich in Rajasthan? “Yep,” he replies, having spent time in Houston. “Through the supply chain.”


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