The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Business Reporter
THE leather industry is working on reviving one of the oldest and most intricate concept of vegetable tanning using goat and sheep skins to manufacture products.
Zimbabwe is said to be throwing away huge amounts of goat and sheep skins, with the slaughter rate of goats and sheep estimated to range between 1 million to 1,2 million per year. The slaughter rate of cattle is estimated to be at 300 000 per year and this is where most of the leather is acquired.
In an interview, National Leather Working Group (NLWG) chairperson, Mr Jacob Nyathi said vegetable tanning was a concept they were looking at. Like the name suggests, vegetable tanning is an organic method relying on natural vegetable tannins from bark or other plant tissues. Tannins from trees such as oak, chestnut, or mimosa are popular, but hundreds of tree types and other plants are known to have been used.
“There are millions of goat and sheep skins which are being thrown away every year. At the moment these are resources which are not being utilised and we are saying in the long run these can be used for vegetable tanning.
There are plenty of these in the rural areas, hence there is a need to capacitate rural people with equipment on how to process those skins,” said Mr Nyathi.
He said rural people could also be capacitated through training so they understand the concept behind vegetable tanning, how to use the machinery and the necessary manufacturing techniques. Mr Nyathi said the Wattle Company, one of the commercial manufacturers of vegetable tanning powder were also interested in joining the project.
He said they were working on roping in the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) under their Innovation Hub concept to be part of the process.
Mr Nyathi said: “Another key project we are likely to undertake soon is extracting tanning powders from trees and plants. We have identified five or so plants that are being used in other countries such as Sudan, which are also available here in different parts of the country.”
He said they were yet to do some research of the acacias group types and other plants to ascertain how best the powders can be made.
Mr Nyathi who is also the secretary of the Zimbabwe Beef and Leather Value Chain (ZBLVC) sustainability taskforce under the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group beef and leather value chain technical assistance project, said Zimbabwe’s Micro, Small and Medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) had great potential.
“There is a great potential for Zimbabwe’s MSMEs in the livestock and leather value chain to be well established and contribute significantly to employment creation, poverty reduction and economic development through the establishment of manufacturing clusters/co-operatives.”
The National Leather Working Group secretary, Mr Fungai Zvinondiramba who is also the Bulawayo leather cluster secretary, said there was a need for rural industrialisation.
“Training is no longer about just going to the college. The aim is to now create rural industrialisation. As a sector we are now taking training to the rural areas so that they get training in their localities. In a way we are trying to curb rural to urban migration,” he said.
Mr Zvinondiramba said informalised training allowed people to be comfortable learning in their rural areas and at the same time during the training they were making products that they were selling to sustain themselves.
In terms of the satellite leather design studio which is to be set up at the Leather Institute of Zimbabwe (LIZ), he said it would go a long way in improving MSMEs skills.