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African leather makers take up the challenge

Reporting on the drive to improve the quality and quantity of Eastern and Southern Africa’s leather and footwear production.

Members of an organisation dedicated to supporting the tanning and leathergoods industries in much of Eastern and Southern Africa met in Zambia during December for its annual regional consultative forum. Previously called the Leather and Leather Products Institute (LLPI), this body officially announced a change of name – with the addition of ‘Africa’ – to become the ALLPI.

As outlined in the December 2017 issue of SATRA Bulletin, the ALLPI is an autonomous institution within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and its membership currently encompasses ten of COMESA’s 19 member states: Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. According to the ALLPI, its aim is ‘to facilitate member states and connect partners, enterprises and institutions for value addition and competitiveness in the leather sector through knowledge sharing, adaption and adoption of innovations at various levels of the leather value chain’.

Delegates to the Zambia forum (including SATRA’s Dr Christine Powley-Williams) came from a number of African nations, as well as from Europe. Most were senior figures within their organisations, and included chief executives of leather companies, representatives of various government departments, and university professors.

Reports were given on progress achieved by the ALLPI since its last forum, and an honest appraisal of key challenges was presented. Emphasis was placed on the importance of manufacturing good quality finished leather products, rather that simply providing skins and hides for others to utilise. During the event, it was stressed that the sale of African skins and hides has historically been a struggle due to a high level of damage and defects. At the 2016 forum, chemical company and event sponsor Gruppo Biokimica offered to tan and finish raw materials from participating countries to prove that commercially acceptable leather was possible. One year later, the company presented what it described as ‘good quality leather’ made from those materials.

A shortage of essentials

One speaker at the event mentioned that ALLPI members are progressing at different rates. Effective training and availability of up-to-date machinery were highlighted as key challenges. In order to counteract such problems, manufacturing clusters are being formed in Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, there is still an inadequate supply of accessories needed to complete finished goods, and a lack of finished leather in some ALLPI countries.

It was revealed that the livestock population in the ALLPI region is estimated at 3.5 billion animals. However, only about 1.3 billion skins and hides are being produced, indicating that considerable work need to be done to make the most of the region’s potential.

According to another speaker, there is an estimated demand for 365 million pairs of shoes per year within COMESA countries. However, the actual production stands at some 85 million – a considerable shortfall. This again shows the incredible potential should the domestic manufacturing capability be strengthened

The importance of attracting foreign investment was also highlighted during the forum, and an ongoing effort towards internal development was stressed as vital if such a goal was to be reached.

Despite such difficulties, the drive to improve and grow in this part of Africa is evident. Plans are slowly coming together, and time will tell how quickly ALLPI countries can become an international force in footwear, leather products and tanning.

The photograph at the top of this page shows delegates gathered in Zambia for the latest regional consultative forum.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 6 of the February 2018 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

Other articles from this issue »