Rwanda Standards Board, National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA), Rwanda Agriculture Board and skins buyers are currently working on increasing returns from the sub-sector.
The agencies are currently in the process of setting standards to determine quality of hides and skins by next month.
According to officials, the new standards and regulations will, among other things, outline ways of treatment of hides and skins along the value chain from livestock keepers to slaughter houses and tanning firms.
This, they say, will improve the quality of the hides and skins as well as prices.
The move is also in line with the Government’s drive to grow the leather industry by adding value to local hides and skins along the value chain to boost production of leather products that could also reduce importation of leather products.
A significant portion of the leather products imported are second hand, including shoes.
Olivier Sibomana, an expert in leather and plastics standards testing at Rwanda Standards Board, told Business Times that the initiative is a result of the recommendations by East African Community countries on standardisation.
“There were no standards or regulations along the local value chain of hides and skins. The existing standards are borrowed from international practices but the weather conditions of Rwanda are different from other parts of the world which means different practices are required in treatment of the hides and skins,” he said.
He added that they have been testing standards for only leather products without considering raw materials.
“Once those standards and regulations are in place, they will be harmonised with standards among regional countries to ensure tanning and leather processing factories get quality skins. We are making drafts of standards of hides and skins with code of practices along the whole chain,” he said.
He said that in order to adopt the standards, a technical committee is expected to meet to ensure that by next month the standards will be ready.
“The standards will set regulation on aspects such as animal husbandry slaughtering practices, collection and transportation so that tanning factories receive better quality,” he said.
According to Anoncée Kuradusenge, the Agro-processing and Biotechnological Research Division Manager at National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA), slaughterhouses, skin collectors and farmers are also involved in the consultation process to ensure that the new regulations and standards address their concerns.
“Local skin collectors often incur losses as skins exporters and tanning factories reject their skins due to poor quality. We hope the standards and regulations to be unveiled will be a guide to better quality. We are partnering as institutions to ensure the standards are available for guidance,” she said.
She added that the move will also help set up a grading system of skins so that operators without required quality can work on a price differentiation model as motivation to improve the quality along the whole chain.
Need for skin collection centres
“We need skins collection centres across the country with experts in quality assurance to grade quality of skins,” Kuradusenge said.
Officials say the move to increase meat production is an opportunity to grow the local leather industry, hence the need for quality assurance.
Rwanda exported 6,237,017 kg of meat worth $22,906,406 in 2016-2017 from 5,310,472kg worth $17,663,941 in 2015-2016.
Production and exportation grew to 6,345,145 kg worth $ 7,957,948 of hides and skins in 2016-2017 which was a decline from 6,781,532kg worth $ 7,411,684 in the previous fiscal year (2015-2016).
Denyse Umugwaneza, an officer in charge of inspection of animal husbandry at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), said there is need to address the unprofessional practices in the leather production sector noting that licenses and regular inspections will also be introduced.
“We have only six abattoirs that meet required standards in Rwanda while thousands of others are substandard. We are cracking down on them and recommend them to comply with the standards,” she said.
Slaughter house operators and skins traders speak out
Emmanuel Mbonigaba, a veterinary officer at Rugano Meat Abattoir and Supply in Kigali city, said that there are still challenges in terms of assuring quality of skins.
“Some farmers lack knowledge on how to treat the hides while others throw away the skins after slaughtering. Here at the slaughterhouse, we realised that overloading the animals during transportation can lead to damage of the skins. Of the skins we gather here, about 20 per cent of them are usually of inferior quality,” he said.
Janvier Ndagijimana, the president of COCOPORWA that collects and supplies skin, said they also face issues of poor quality of skins due to poor slaughtering practices.
“Slaughterhouses can also damage the skins. When we take such skins to tanning factories they reject them. If the price of one kilogramme of skins is between Rwf800 and Rwf650, they drop the price to Rwf200 per one kilogramme which is a big loss to us,” he told Business Times.
Vedaste Ntirandekura, another skin collectors said that the standards are needed to ensure they collect quality skins from slaughterhouses which could improve the profitability of the sector.
The Government has since increased taxes on second-hand shoes to discourage their importation and promote locally-made leather products.
Beginning 2016, the Government raised taxes on used shoes from $0.2 to $3 per kilogramme.
This is part of the 2017-2019 strategy for the transformation of textiles, apparel and leather industrial sectors that seeks to increase the quality and quantity of textile, apparel and leather for both local and foreign markets.
It is projected that this could create 25,655 jobs, increase exports to $43 million and decrease imports to $ 33 million by 2019 (from $124 million in 2015).