By Devika Jyothi
Transitioning from an industry bound by tradition to innovation-driven, the Indian leather sector today enjoys a prominent position in the global leather value chain. Key to this transformation is the strategic role of the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and the strong academy research – industry partnership propounded by the CSIR-CLRI.
With a goal to double sales revenue to US$27bn by 2020, the Indian leather industry presents significant learning opportunities for East African businesses and trade and investment support institutions looking to enhance sector productivity, competiveness and environmental sustainability.
The International Trade Centre (ITC), through Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA), recently facilitated the participation of East African leather sector stakeholders in an exclusive workshop – Technology Trends in Leather and Leather Products and its role in Growth and Sustainability in Africa. The workshop was organised by the CSIR-CLRI in Chennai, India. The delegation included tanners and representatives from government and trade and investment support institutions from Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Addressing the workshop, Dr. B. Chandrasekaran, Director, CSIR – CLRI presented a broad overview of the activities of the Institute. He stated that with its strong industry-academia linkage, the CLRI represents the Indian leather sector in all its planning and policy development.
‘Today, nearly 25% of the global leather research is done by CLRI,’ Dr. Chandrasekaran said, highlighting the technological innovations and interventions by the Institute including ‘waterless chrome tanning technology’ and zero waste water discharge. In association with other global agencies, CSIR-CLRI develops protocols for the testing of restricted chemicals. Furthermore, research undertaken by the Institute has contributed to the development of newer leather chemicals, environmental friendly leather processing and global fashion forecasting for colours and designs, thus leading to increased trade, he said.
The workshop, organised alongside the India International Leather Fair (IILF) held 1-3 February 2017, addressed topics covering technology trends in leather and leather chemicals, technology trends in cleaner and environmentally sound leather manufacturing, and the global scenario in environmental management among others. A highlight of these sessions, and what is referred to as a global game changer for leather processing, was ‘the waterless chrome tanning technology’ – a first of its kind technology to reduce chromium pollution load.
While thousands of tons of chrome tanning agent are discharged in the wastewater, CSIR’s ‘waterless tanning technology’ eliminates the use of water in tanning, reduces the total dissolved solids in wastewater, and also cuts the usage of chromium by 15-20%. The technology has gained popularity, with tanners in all clusters across India enrolling for its adoption. In addition, several other countries including South Africa, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Sudan have shown interest in this technology with the Ethiopian government approving its adoption across the country’s leather sector.
‘CLRI’s work is revolutionary – in a developing country like India, it is revolutionary to galvanise the private sector to benefit from the research for growth. In Africa, the industry operates in isolation. We look forward to working with CLRI on capacity building, productivity improvement as well as on strengthening of research and commercialisation,’ commented Nicholas Mudungwe, Programmes Coordinator, COMESA/LLPI.
‘On technology, there is a need to demonstrate to tanneries the usage of good chemicals as well as the importance of quality control and quality assurance. Short training programmes by Indian technicians in East Africa will be helpful in filling the gap,’ he added.
‘The CLRI model is very interesting. While we have the Uganda Industrial Research Institutive under the Ministry of Trade, there is no academic interface. There is a clear need for a government-run research institute to work with academic institutions to conduct research for practical solutions to industrial problems. And further, to train technicians from the industry,’ said Nelson Agaba, Leather Industries of Uganda Limited.
The sessions were followed by a group discussion on ways to tap into opportunities for the transformation of the leather industry and sustainable development in Africa. The discussions centred on the possibilities for collaboration with East African trade and investment support institutions, as well as tanners looking to address specific technological issues.
‘By and large, Africa has similar socio-economic conditions to India. Hence strategies adopted by India for growth can be replicated in Africa,’ Dr. Chandrasekaran said.
‘However, adequate environmental protection measures need to be in place before attempting to strengthen the sector. Africa doesn’t have to repeat the mistakes that India made. Capacity building for skilled manpower and environmental protection are the steps to sustainability in developing the leather sector,’ he remarked.
During the 6-day visit, the East African delegation also visited the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Ranipet. The state-of-the art ZLD (Zero Liquid Discharge) plant is designed to handle 4500 cum/day of effluent, making it one of the largest CETP for tannery waste-water in India. The plant caters to the needs of 82 tanneries spread over an area of 4-5 sq. km.
‘This visit and the workshop has been a real eye opener for me,’ commented Dr. Isaack Noor, Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Leather Development Council. The Kenyan Government is now working on a plan to establish a world class leather industrial park in Kinanie, Athi-river to foster competitiveness and promote investment in the sector. Occupying 500 acres of government land, the industrial park will house tanneries, a training centre, common manufacturing facilities, chemical storage and distribution units, leather goods accessories units and a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP).
“As we aim to foster value addition initiatives, we look forward to collaborating with CLRI, in association with COMESA, for technology transfer in all aspects of tanning, leather processing, leather products manufacturing, ensuring enhanced quality and environmental management. Capacity building of local technicians will be a key area of interest,” added Dr. Noor.