South Africa like other SADC countries has an abundance of livestock. Collectively, the SADC region’s livestock population is estimated at 64 million cattle, 39 million sheep and 38 million goats. Of these figures, South Africa alone contributes an estimated 15 million cattle, 24.6 million sheep, 7 million goats and an additional 3 million farmed game species – all of which could significantly contribute to economic growth and job creation as the leather industry is at least 3 times the value of the meat industry.
Speaking at this year’s International Training Workshop on Developing Key Parameters for Ensuring Sustainability of Leather Sector in Developing Countries in Chennai, India - BioFISA II Programme Manager, Zvikomborero Tangawamira believes that the SADC region could learn a lot from the CSIR-CLRI India.
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – Central Leather Research Institute (CSIR-CLRI) in India is developing new technologies from biotechnology and nanotechnology in the effort to improve efficiency and reduce costs in leather processing while at the same time reducing the environmental impact of the industry.
While South Africa has made strides to improve the environmental impact of the leather industry over the years, Tangawamira believes that the country and the rest of the SADC region still has a long way to go.
“The leather industry in Southern Africa is fragmented and requires a value chain approach to make it lucrative. Like South Africa, the rest of the SADC region presents an opportunity for unique type of leather from game and other regional endemic species, yet not much research is being done to better process these resources for economic gain,” she said.
According to Tangawamira, the establishment of a SADC leather research institute to support the further development of the leather industry including its growth in: manufacturing, export revenue, employment, downstream beneficiation on local raw hides and skins etc. is needed, especially considering that leather products are mentioned in the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063 as a value chain with significant potential for the region.
“The region also lacks skilled labor in the leather product manufacturing industry and lags behind in leather technology advancement. Most of the cattle and livestock are found in rural communities and are not always well looked after in term of disease management, breeding and nutrition requirements consequently affecting the quality of hides and skins that can be utilized for the leather industry.”
It is therefore for this reason that the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s flagship programme, the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (NEPAD SANBio) has been working to support this industry by fostering research and innovation in animal health and nutrition.
Thus far, SANBio through the BioFISA II – a Finnish Southern African Partnership Programme has supported research in the development of a diagnostic kit for the detection of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) as part of a broader FMD management programme to benefit the SADC countries that are affected and suffer significant economic losses from it.
The Network has also supported the research and commercialization of a mineral and vitamin block lick for small holder farmers to produce better quality beef and gain better value from bovine in rural communities in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.
Collaboration with organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) would be essential to support the ecosystem.
“NEPAD SANBio is in a position to leverage such support and can work together with the SADC secretariat to plan and implement interventions along the value chain at regional level. For the SADC region, this industry can boost economic growth and contribute significantly to country GDP while at the same time creating jobs and opportunities for rural communities, youth and women along the value chain. It is therefore essential that we utilize the existing opportunities in creating the Africa we want and using science and technology to do so,” Tangawamira said.