The Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) has shown interest to breathe in new life into the unexploited leather industry. The leather industry, which has vast untapped potential, has huge prospects to improve economic growth and alleviate poverty in Botswana.
Botswana is a “cattle country” as witnessed in the Beef Industry, however, the by-products, such as skin and hides, do not grow, hence an insignificant contribution to economic diversification and beneficiation from this industry.
A report on the current situation of the leather industry conducted in 2009 has been released by LEA, showing that there lies great opportunity in the industry.
“The current situation where Botswana’s hides and skins are exported with very little value addition needs to be addressed as a priority area,” said Dynah Solani from Research and Development division at LEA.
Solani said, currently, all the collected hides and skins in Botswana are destined for the export market through the BMC, which exports all its output of hides and the hide collectors and exports. This is mainly caused by lack of a primary processing leather plant (wet blue tannery) locally.
Solani said the existing gap on the need for adequate equipment in the slaughter facilities to reduce damage of hides and maintain quality has been identified. Currently, there are inadequate municipal abattoirs with six being operational. “Local primary processing of leather is dominated by survivalist and micro artisan tanners who are mostly engaged in vegetable tanning and process hides and skins, mainly from home and ceremonial slaughters and localized butcheries,” she said.
The inadequate slaughter facilities have led to loss of raw hides mainly due to poor handling and damages during the home slaughters ultimately damaging hides and reducing quality.
LEA is looking into lobbying government to extend funding towards the infrastructural development of tannery effluent treatment infrastructure as the costs associated with such are prohibitive to attract and retain any private investments.
In order to commercialize the leather industry, Solani said there is need for LEA and the Ministry of Agriculture to review the current local training provided in the leather industry and explore areas of collaboration in training and technical assistance to improve local capacity and skills in the local leather industry.
“We need to provide training to improve the quality and increase the quantities of hides and skins for local processing,” she said.
Botswana had only one leather finishing tanning plant in the country that imported all its raw materials of wet blues and tanning chemicals, which has since been closed and has mainly caused lack of a primary processing leather plant locally.
“LEA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders, should work in promoting uptake of identified business opportunities and facilitating entry into the chain with a view to increase the local market share of local leather in both local and export market,” said Solani.
Consultants have been engaged to conduct feasibility on the setting up of a Leather Park in Botswana, which will cover effluent infrastructure, training centre and shells for investors in wet blue, re-tanning and finished leather plants to set up.
According to the study, in 2008, the exported hides and skins were valued at more than P30 million and about P40 million in 2010. Further, the import bill for leather and leather products in 2008 stood at more than P151 million and was dominated by footwear and apparel while the export bill stood at P46 million. The value of the locally manufactured goods stood at P3.1 million with the main products being sandals, school shoes and handbags.
In addition, the LEA deputy chief executive officer Ms Verily Molatedi said they have identified four agricultural sub-sectors of piggery, dairy, leather and horticulture as areas of focus for its current strategic plan. The main reasons for the strategic focus are influenced by the potential for the agriculture sector to be a source of raw materials for industry and investment opportunities in the country, she said.