LAST week I attended a workshop on the beef and leather value chain in Lupane. The workshop was part of a project funded by a bank and implemented by one of the Government ministries.
What caught my attention was how very little is known about the leather value chain especially by the so-called experts both from Government and non-governmental sectors.
This is in itself an anomaly, how can so little be known about such an important sector of the livestock industry.
Is it because the sector is kept as a closely guarded secret and if so why?
Most people will remember how the leather sector used to be well established and vividly visible with hide collection and buying centres across the country. There were names which up to today when mentioned, will resonate with the hides and leather.
My point is that the leather value chain is a critical component of the livestock sector and its full potential needs to be explored and this will require opening it up and ensure participation of smallholder farmers and other players.
This situation which seems to be exclusionist in approach is not tenable.
The leather players are only now screaming out of their holes into the public domain because of the surtax which was imposed by Government on exportation of raw hides.
The tax has become a de facto ban on export of raw hides due to its exorbitant nature.
In the absence of such a ban they would silently exploit the benefits at the exclusion of smallholder farmers.
It should be stated that a hide constitutes part of the controversial fifth quarter which farmers and abattoirs have been hackling over for some time now.
The fifth quarter is not paid for although abattoir operators will argue to the contrary.
It is my view that if the leather value chain is to develop to its full potential, it should adopt an inclusive approach which involves the smallholder farmers as participants not exploited victims.
As a starting point let the hide be paid for when a farmer sells his animal to the abattoir. That way a farmer can be motivated to uphold all the principles and practices that ensure a good hide is obtained from his/her animal. Let farmers and other players have meaningful participation in the leather value sector so that its full potential can be realised.
I have no hesitation that the leather sector can grow beyond its present level but it needs to open up and be plural in its membership.
Let the sector be demystified and we can have more leather tanners and tanneries, leather merchants and manufacturers of leather products.
It is without contest that if the leather value chain begins to tick and farmers are rewarded for their hides, we may begin to see a broader participation and even an exponential growth of this sector.
There are several hundreds of animals that are slaughtered every year in about 122 registered abattoirs in this country and we add those slaughtered in many slaughter poles across districts.
This translates to a huge amount of hides notwithstanding the quality issues which are obviously important. I am aware that players in this sector are quick to dismiss hides from smallholder players as of poor quality and pretend that they are not important yet somehow they are keen on keeping them.
We need to face the facts and reality that smallholder farmers contribute the highest percentage of livestock to the national herd and there are the highest producers of hides.
We cannot ignore this important sector if we want this important value chain under the livestock sector to operate optimally. We need to identify and address all the bottlenecks in this value chain and not to just scream about the surtax as if it is the only hindrance.
It will be prudent to look at the sector in a holistic manner and address all the pertinent issues so that we oil this sector and make it tick again.
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