Kenya looses on leather fortunes as Ethiopia rakes billions

Low technology, poor marketing strategies and low quality of hides and skins as a result of disease and tick infestation are responsible for the dismal performance of the leather sector in Kenya which has cost Kenya Sh4 billion.

The number of livestock in the country has been doubling year on year thanks to new breeding technologies, but so has the demand for meat which would follow then that the same would apply for hides and skins. But data indicate that Kenya’s leather industry has been in limbo even as the global demand for hides and skins soars.

Leather industry is one of the most lucrative in the world with countries like Ethiopia earning upto Sh90billion from the export of hides and skins. Their local leather market has remained the envy of the region, But it didn’t just happen. Ethiopia has invested heavily on a streamlined leather sector complete with incentives for farmers and aggressive market.

Kenya on the other hand has a different tale.  According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya earned S10 billion from export of wet-blue hides in year 2013/2014, yet more than Sh14 billion could have been made through the use of better technology. The genesis of the leather industry woes starts at the pre slaughter stage where the quality of hides and skins is adversely affected by branding, tick bites, scratches and wounds caused by larvae infestation and this together with post-slaughter defects like flay cuts, putrefaction and poor preservation. These causes lose to the tune of Sh6.4 billion.

Consequently, though hide and skin production is a lucrative venture due to high demand for quality leather products, farmers reap little from their venture. There is glaring difference between the prices of the machine-flayed varieties, which fetch Sh105 per square foot and hand-flayed hides that bring Sh30 for the same quantity. To show the potential of the industry, the Kenya Leather Development Council (KLDC) has released figures of livestock in the country, which stands at 17.5 million cattle, 27.7 million goats, 17.1 million sheep, 3 million camels, 1.8 million donkeys, 1.83 million pigs, 10,000 farm ostriches and 12,000 farm crocodiles.

However, the production of hides and skins as of 2010 in cow hides was 2.5 million, 5.4 million goat skins, 2.7 million sheep skins, 0.5 million camel hides and 1,000 crocodile skins. The annual production of footwear in Kenya is 6-7 million pairs of shoes. Shoemakers are sometimes forced to import leather to meet the demand. "You can see what that means if there is proper infrastructure in all counties," says the council adding that a proper survey to determine the actual potential of the sector is yet to be done. Kamau Waira, chairman of Ruiru slaughterhouse, said they use knives in which leads to cuts in the skins

According to 2013 Economic Survey, demand for animal products increased marginally in 2012. Cattle slaughtered in local abattoirs rose from 2.10 million in 2011 to 2:19 mil-lion in 2012. Over the same period, the total number of goats and sheep slaughtered increased by 1.5 per cent to stand at 5.92 million compared to 5.8 million recorded in 2011. China is the world leading leather exporter with India and Italy following. In 2012, the global trade in leather trade was worth Sh6.68 trillion with footwear taking 60 per cent and hides hence compromising quality.

"There is not much to gain from this industry unlike in a country like Ethiopia where prices of skins and hides are better. In Kenya prices are poor and can sometimes go as low as Sh10 per kilogramme of hides to Sh40 when at the highest price," he says. This, he added, discourages farmers and slaughterhouse owners that they leave the skins and hides to rot rather than sell at such a low price. "There is poor market since Kenyans no longer buy local shoes as they used to and there is so much dominance of foreign products in our markets and this is hurting the leather industry," Waira says.

Experts insist that the industry could earn the country more foreign currency and create employment if there was better technology to handle hides and skins. To attain maximum returns from the hides and skins sub-sector of the livestock industry, the government has partnered with the Germany international aid agency GIZ and introduced an easy to use pneumatic de-hiders to ensure minimum damage at pre-slaughter stage.

Nine de-hiders were provided to various slaughterhouses in the country through public private partnership programme with the aim of reaching skins and hides producers nationally. Some of the slaughterhouses that benefited from the de-hiders are in Mogotio, Kisumu, Mombasa, Ruiru and West Pokot.