By Devika Jyothi
Leather and leather products are among the most widely traded commodities, with an estimated global trade value of nearly US$100 billion per year. Since the supply chain begins with animal husbandry – the lifeblood of many rural communities – leather is an important strategic sector for the economic and industrial development of many African countries.
Africa with its huge livestock population is emerging as one of promising markets for sourcing quality leather and hides for the booming global leather industry. While the African leather sector has great potential, it faces a number of challenges including a lack of awareness of international standards and market requirements.
A standard is a voluntary requirement, specification, guideline or characteristic used among industry stakeholders to ensure that materials, products, and processes are fit for their purpose, of a certain quality, and that their production is least harmful to the environment. Despite standards being voluntary, adhering to them is becoming increasingly necessary for exporters wanting to sell their product in the global marketplace. For any business, the adoption of international standards means that suppliers can source products and services from anywhere in the world and a producer has access to a much larger market for their products. The adoption of international standards by East African leather sector stakeholders is crucial for the successful development and growth of the region’s leather and leather product industries.
To educate stakeholders across the East African leather sector on the importance of meeting quality and standard requirements to tap global markets, Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) organised two-day workshops on ‘African Leather Industry and Global Leather Standard Requirements’ and ‘Sustainability of the Leather Industry’. The workshops were held in Nairobi for Kenyan and Tanzanian leather stakeholders on 18-19 September and in Kampala on 20-21 September for Ugandan stakeholders. A total of 24 participants – 13 from Kenya and 11 from Tanzania – attended the workshop in Nairobi, while 22 participants from Uganda attended the workshop in Kampala.
Led by Mr. Sushil Dubey and Mr. Saravanabhavan Subramani, Indian leather experts, the workshops focused on quality management, international standards and certifications and environmental management.
Participants in the workshops included tanners, managers, technicians, and footwear and finished products manufacturers, as well as representatives from government, leather development institutions and associations, national quality laboratories, standards bureaus, leather research institutions and academia.
The workshops covered different quality management processes and standards used internationally, emphasising the need to work towards achieving one standard that will prepare the supplier to meet all global quality requirements. Participants were also introduced to advancements in various aspects of leather industry – from technological advancements in production processes to quality management and certifications for ensuring quality consistency and adherence to regulatory norms, as well as environmental management for sustainability of the leather industry.
Beyond quality certifications such as International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards, the session highlighted the need to work towards Leather Working Group (LWG) certification. LWG certification covers a wide range of quality and regulatory requirements and is widely accepted by most international markets and global brands as it prepares a producer for continuous improvement, upgradation, and cost-reduction. The workshop also emphasised the need to be environmentally responsible to ensure buyers’ confidence and enhance the brand value of the company and the country in the global market.
‘Complying with the standards will help suppliers from East Africa become competitive in the international markets, and be well versed in various requirements and compliance issues when negotiating a contract,’ Mr Dubey observed.
The course was well received by the participants as the general apprehension that these processes and modalities are often very complex, were addressed and mitigated. The participants were in agreement that meeting international standards, working on quality and environmental management systems and the certifications will lead to process improvements, which will enable them to access international markets.
‘I did think the course might be too technical, but it was not. The technical terms such as REACH were explained in simple and easy to understand terms,’ said Mr. Ashwin Punja, Director of Dogbones Limited, a tannery based in Nairobi, Kenya. ‘The overriding conclusion of the workshop was that it is important to set standardized procedures in the tannery. Also, it is imperative that we achieve internationally recognised standards to improve our market share – beginning with ISO 14001 and then LWG. The time to assess the gaps required to be filled is now – whether we get assistance or not.’
‘There are things I was not aware of, but through this workshop I learnt about standards, and tanneries in general,’ added Ms. Mtaba Mwasiti Abdallah of Igunga Tanning and Leather Product, Tanzania.
The workshop also sought to bring the leather sector together. Stakeholders, especially tanners, were able to network, share knowledge and experiences and discuss potential collaboration. As Mr. Saquib Munir deputy managing director of SWT Tanners Limited, Uganda, remarked, ‘Tanners have to be united to develop the industry, not just compete with each other.’
‘The workshop was a key in exposing our tanneries to what is happening in international markets and how to become internationally competitive. This is a journey we have started in making the leather sector in Kenya more competitive,’ Mr. Charles Ndungu, Kenya Leather Development Council, remarked emphasising the Council’s commitment.
Upon concluding the workshop, participants from all three countries – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – committed to working towards achieving international standards and certifications going forward.
 REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) is a European regulation on the use of chemicals