Africa - no more than skin deep in the leather industry
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CTA. 1996. Africa - no more than skin deep in the leather industry. Spore 66. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47486
Animal hides, hair and fur are among the most lucrative primary by-products of the livestock industry. In Africa thevalue-added potential of these by-products is still under-exploited when compared with the importance of livestock. With a few...
Animal hides, hair and fur are among the most lucrative primary by-products of the livestock industry. In Africa the value-added potential of these by-products is still under-exploited when compared with the importance of livestock. With a few notable exceptions most countries in Africa are losing a significant source of potential revenue by exporting hides as raw and untanned leather. Other developing regions are exploiting this potential by supplying finished leather goods to industrialized countries and are thereby gaining a new share of the world market. Many animal species, such as ostrich, crocodile, antelope and zebra, are raised more for their skin, their hair or their fur than for their meat. Merino sheep are raised for their wool, and particularly in southern Africa, angora goats are kept for their mohair. But these specialized livestock species are marginal to the principal source of skins which are the byproducts of cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats that have been raised for meat. With a production of 7 million tonnes in 1990, cattle and buffalo skins account for a much greater proportion of global production (at 9 million tonnes for the same year) than those of sheep and goats. Cattle hide, in particular, is both thick and strong, qualities which are required for a wide range of uses. Depending on the tanning process, the leather can be made robust and rigid, and therefore suitable for the soles of shoes, or more supple for use in the garment industry. Goat skins are valued for their leather quality, which is strong and fine-grained. Some breeds, such as the Red Sekoto, are renowned for the quality of their skins. Sheepskin is less robust and is therefore often used for making the upper part of lightweight shoes. Sub-Saharan Africa has approximately 10% of the global cattle and buffalo population, 10% of sheer and more than 20% of the world's goats. Therefore, it has potentially a good supply of skins. However, in each of these three categories, the contribution to global production of skins is less than the equivalent share of total livestock. For example, cattle and buffalo hides produced by sub-Saharan Africa is less than 9% whereas Europe, with only 8% of the cattle population produces 15% of commercial skins. The chief reason for this is that skins are often not collected for the market in many countries. In Guinea, for example, only 20% are collected and in Lesotho only 10%, whereas in Europe it is close to 100%. Furthermore, with a much higher level of annual slaughter - 35% in Germany and the USA compared with 10% in Tanzania, for example - the offtake of livestock is much higher in the developed countries. This means that slaughtered animals are younger and their hides less damaged. Industrial buyers want the best skins because they have greater value-added potential. Skins from animals that have been produced under extensive farming systems are often marked by damage from horns, parasites such as ticks, or thorns. Such damage greatly reduces the value of the hide. Even though a skin may be worth 5% of the market value of a cow, or 10% of that of a goat, there is little incentive to improve the quality. This is because livestock owners in Africa rarely receive any added value for a good quality skin from an animal sold live. In fact some producers, particularly in Central Africa, continue the practice of tattooing or branding their animals. The FAO estimates the annual loss of revenue as a consequence of the poor collection of skins to be US$ 850m. Going hell for leather Some countries are pulling in considerable profit by exploiting their resources. Ethiopia, for example, exports fine and pretanned leather worth US$ 20m, while leather products bring in three times that amount in Nigeria. In southern Africa, Zimbabwe is the leading producer with large industrial tanneries close to the borders of South Africa and Mozambique. There are also a number of leather manufacturers producing high quality goods as well as boots for the region's mineworkers. Burkina Faso is well known for its traditional suede leather which is valued throughout West Africa. In the autumn of 1995 a new industrial unit, Tan Aliz, was established in the industrial zone of Ouagadougou. The factory employs 230 people and has the capacity for treating 16,000 skins per day. To avoid disruption in the supply of raw material, the government of Burkina Faso has prohibited the export of animal skins, because previously, 700,000 skins from local abattoirs and village markets had been exported, particularly to Italy. This policy should help to protect the FCFA 1.7 billion investment in Tan Aliz which was threatened by the export of live animals, and consequently their skins, to the coastal countries in the south. Tan Aliz, which also buys skins from neighbouring Niger and Mali, should bring in a revenue of FCFA 7.5 billion, compared to the previous figure of FCFA 3 billion. This is because tanning doubles the value of the product. World trade in skins and leather goods has seen many changes over the past twenty years. According to the FAO some developing countries 'are now importing raw leather and animal skins from the developed countries for processing, manufacturing and reexport as high value goods.' At the moment this is happening principally in Asia and Latin America, for example in Brazil, which is making a good profit from the business. But there is considerable potential for development of this sector in Africa, which could take its share of this reversal of a historic trend. Some countries are already moving in that direction.