Ban awakens leather industry

A ban on the exportation of unprocessed hides has forced leather manufacturers to up their game.

A ban on the exportation of unprocessed hides has forced leather manufacturers to up their game.

Rwanda may earn $12m (Frw9.36b) this year from the export of hides and skins. In 2006 and 2007 the industry generated income of $1.9m (Frw1b) and $3.6m (Frw1.9b) respectively.

According to Vincent Karega, the minister in charge of industry and investment promotion, “the 2006 ban was in line with a government policy of value addition.”

The failure to process leather was making the industry lose a lot of money. The ban has put pressure on local factories and abattoirs, who are now working tirelessly to have skins and hides processed in the country before they are exported.

Rwanda Leather Industries, previously only producing unprocessed leather (wet blue), now exports semi-finished (crust) and finished products. This is big step for the development of the industry.

According to Gitau Wamukui, chief executive of Rwanda Leather Industry, Rwanda with its ideal climate for livestock has the potential to become the region’s strongest exporter of leather.

“In Kenya and Uganda it is common to mark animals with hot metal that tears the skin thereby reducing its quality,” Wamukui explained.

Rwanda Leather Industry has been working from six processing drums. The six drums under their full capacity can process between 3,000 and 6,000 hides per day.

A recent acquisition of 15 new machines will push production to new levels. By March the exportation of semi-finished and finished products will begin.

Wamukui said that once installation of the new machines is complete, they intend to export two containers of processed leather and one each of semi-processed and processed leather per month.

To ease the move to processed leather only, the government had issued temporary licenses to export unprocessed leather to Saban, Satra and Rucep abattoirs.

The licenses expire in March. This ought to give the abattoirs enough time to install their processing machines. The government has promised to help farmers improve the quality of the stock.

They will advise in particular on disease control. It has been observed that the slaughtering process needs to be improved as it is fundamental to the quality of leather.

Rwanda Leather Industries in collaboration with GTZ, a German corporation, is training workers in the slaughtering process.

The government, in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), intends to establish a training centre. Karega said that it is hoped this will be completed within two years.  

The smuggling of hides from Rwanda to neighbouring countries, especially to Uganda where leather can be sold for more, is the biggest threat to the industry.