Many Ugandans opt for imported leather products, ignoring the locally made ones, thinking they are of poor quality. PROSSY NANDUDU examines the potential of the leather industry in Uganda and why it should be nurtured.
The absence of a factory to process hides and skin into leather is hindering the growth of the leather industry in Uganda, Emmanuel Mwebe, the coordinator of the Uganda leather and Allied Industries Association, has said.
Mwebe said Uganda has seven medium-sized leather tanneries and several small ones, but there is no factory that processes hides and skins into final leather. The hides and skins are only processed up to wet-blue level.
“Other countries make the final leather,” said Mwebe. He said this has hindered the growth of the industry and local factories are deprived of byproducts that could be put to other uses.
Mwebe noted that the establishment of a factory will increase the production of leather products in Uganda and create employment for the youth.
“We should not stop at making wet blue, but also go an extra mile to make the finished leather. This will also give us byproducts that will increase earnings from hides and skins,” said Mwebe.
The absence of a leather factory has also fueled the importation of cheap and synthetic products. This has frustrated efforts by the footwear factories in Uganda. Mwebe said in Ethiopia, leather factories have opened up footwear shops, which has enabled the country penetrate regional markets.
Demand for leather products
It is estimated that Ugandans buy 25 million pairs of shoes every year. Of these, only one million are produced in the country. The rest are imported. This has been partly blamed on lack of awareness of the existence of locally made leather products in Uganda, according to Tom Mukiibi, the executive manager of Crane Shoes and Crafts in Kampala.
Mukiibi says leather can be got from fish, chicken, snakes and wild animals in addition to domesticated animals such as goats, sheep and cattle.
Figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics show that Uganda has potential to produce 1.4 million cattle hides, 3.1 million goatskins and 0.68 million sheepskins annually.
However, collection rates currently average at 1.2 million hides, 2.4 million goat skins and 0.54 million
sheep skins. Most of the hides and skins produced are exported in raw or semi-processed form.
Out of the five major tanning industries, it is only the Jinja-based Leather Industries of Uganda that processes hides and skins up to finished product stage - ready for use in the local market.
The other four tanneries; Skyfat Tanneries, Novelty Investment, Jambo Tannery and Gomba Fish Skins Industry, only process hides and skins to the stage of wet blue - semi processed hides and skins - for export.
Availability of raw materials
Hides and skins, the raw materials for leather, are byproducts of the meat industry and they are derived from either urban or rural slaughter houses.
With a population of about 11.4 million cattle, 3.4 million sheep and 12.4 million goats with offtake rates of 17% for cattle and 30% for goats and sheep, the potential raw material available in Uganda is about 1.9 million cattle hides and about 4.8 million goat/sheep skins.
Leather tanneries have been accused of polluting the environment, partly due to lack of a factory that processes wastes into valuable products. The problem has been compounded by the fact that most leather tanneries are located in urban centres.
But Mwebe says there will soon be a tannery waste management factory that will process parts on leather that are likely to cause smell into edible products and products that can be used in other industries such as pharmaceuticals.
One of the major byproducts from leather is gelatin, which is processed into a food additive used in yoghurt, capsules, creams, sweets and glue. Other products from leather include key holders, decorations,
leather sandals, shoes, belts, bags and table mats.
The factory will be setup by a South African company that currently takes some of the waste materials.
Also, stakeholders are in talks with the National Agriculture Research Organisation to make fertilisers out of some of the waste.
The tanneries also have to treat the water used to wash skins before it is disposed of. The water
can also be used as fertiliser.
Inadequate and unreliable electricity affects production and increases the costs of doing business. Rao R, the director of Hoopoe Trading, a tannery in Lugazi, has called on Umeme and the Uganda Electricity
Transmission Company to provide the tannery with a direct line of electricity to reduce the cost of fuel used to run generators.
“The power line in Lugazi is too congested and cannot supply enough electricity for our processes,” said Rao. He said on average they use 70 litres of fuel per hour to run generators whenever there is load shedding, which can sometimes take upto one week.
Even when there is no load shedding, the firm has to supplement insufficient powers supply with a generator
that runs during the night to eliminate any possible smell that may arise due to lack of power supply to the processing plant.
Rao made the request while taking members of the Uganda Manufacturers Association around the factory recently. Another challenge is that butchers do not have the proper skills and equipment to skin animals. They use kitchen knives that create holes in the skin, affecting its quality.
Failing to nurture leather industry costing Uganda