By Devika Jyothi
With the third largest livestock population on the African continent after Ethiopia and Sudan, Tanzania has much potential for becoming a huge exporter of leather and leather products. However, the Tanzanian leather sector has been plagued by several issues, ranging from low investment in value addition to low operational capacities and regulatory impediments.
‘Our raw material is of a very low quality. We want to learn the magic in Indian leather processing so to improve quality and gain access to global markets,’ says Hussein Albaiti, Director of Tanzania’s Lake Trading Company.
Mr. Albaiti was part of the East African delegation who visited India earlier in the year to learn more about the Indian leather industry and to explore business opportunities. During the visit, organised by the International Trade Centre (ITC), through its Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) project, Mr. Albaiti participated in the 32nd India International Leather Fair 2017 in Chennai, attended a one-day workshop on leather technology trends at the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) as well as a Business-to-Business (B2B) Meet at Ambur Trade Centre.
SITA caught up with Mr. Albaiti to learn more about his business, his visit to India and his plans for the future.
SITA: Tell us about your business and the entrepreneurial journey
HA: We started off as a Trading company in 1998 exporting raw hides and skin until 2000. In 2000 we started the production of wet-blue. With local technicians, we had quality and pollution issues, and had to close the unit twice in 2003 and 2005.
Then, with support from UNIDO and Osho Chemicals, we were able to address the odour and pollution issues by reducing the usage of sodium sulphide through the application of enzymes. In 2009, we also hired an expert technician from India – P. Shujath Rasheed.
We are now venturing into finished leather and immediately looking to improve the quality of Crust for export. Presently, the finished leather is only for the local market. We also have a small unit for making industrial leather gloves. In addition, we are looking to set up a shoe-manufacturing unit.
SITA: What is the key objective of your participation in the mission to India and working with SITA in general?
HA: Our basic raw material in Tanzania is of low quality. Since the imposition of a levy, the smuggling of quality raw skin and hides has increased, and consequently, local factories get very low grades. We need to adopt technical inputs to improve the quality of crust for exporting to India, for conversion into leather products for the global market.
But to do that we have to learn the magic of transforming the leather – the magic in Indian leather processing for the fine finish. We now seek technical advice from CLRI on improving our leather processing as well as in establishing the shoe-making unit. We would like SITA to help facilitate this.
SITA: What products do you currently export and to where?
We export wet blue to several countries including India and China. Presently, we have an agreement with PUM – a Netherlands-based consultancy to help us to enter the European market. An expert from The Netherlands will work with us on making our leather acceptable in line with EU standards. We would also value CLRI’S recommendations on this issue.
SITA: What are your learnings from the CLRI workshop?
HA: It was an eye-opener in many ways. Waterless Chrome tanning to reduce waste and pollution– the idea is mind blowing! I am hearing it for the first time and would be keen to trial this method in Tanzania.
SITA: What were your impressions of the IILF Experience and the B2B Meet?
This is the first time for us to participate in a global expo and the opportunity has been especially beneficial. There were several sales enquiries and in addition, I was able to reconnect and revive business with four customers from India, China and Madagascar.
It’s good to show our buyers that we have global exposure. In the past, we were less knowledgeable of the global prices and export possibilities. This participation in a way facilitates a shift in power from the buyer to the seller. We now need to leverage that. Competitive pricing is one key aspect.
SITA: What was the overall impact of the programme on your future plans?
Overall, we see potential business prospects as well as opportunities for quality improvement. It made me aware of the products and processes that the global market seeks and also of our capabilities and the possibilities.
The visit has given me a vision to now formulate a plan for the future. We have come to know that India presents significant opportunities, not just as a two-way trading partner, but as a stepping stone to the global market.
 Leather in its blue state, which is obtained immediately after mineral tanning and prior to dyeing
 Leather which has been tanned but not finished
 Tanning technology to reduce the chromium pollution load