East Africa: The Emerging Home of African Sustainable Leather

Currently, the Ethiopian leather tanning industry is characterized by too much use of chemicals in the tanning process leading to serious impacts on the environment such as water contamination in water sources. To address this, Solidaridad has partnered with Stahl and MVO to implement the Leather Green Tanning Initiative (GTI) in Ethiopia. This is a three-year programme, co-funded by the European Union and aimed at improving leather production practices across the entire leather value chain.

The Ethiopian Tanning Industry

In Ethiopia, tanning is an important economic activity. The country is home to the largest population of livestock in Africa, and is the 10th largest producer in the world. The livestock sector contributes towards 16.5% of Ethiopia’s GDP, and is important source of income for the rural population.  

According to the Ethiopian livestock sector, close to 20% of the overall slaughter, hides and skin processing is undertaken in modern abattoirs and slaughter slabs. Meanwhile, 80% of the overall animal slaughter, hides and skin processing is carried out in people’s backyards under unsanitary conditions that massively degrade the environment.  

To address this, the GTI programme will offer local tanneries technical support in cleaner/eco-friendly production, improved labor conditions, business management, and trade expectations. The initiative will also share best industry practices with government institutions and other tanneries to reach scale.

Solidaridad Partners for Cleaner Leather

The Green Tanning Initiative (GTI) was officially launched during the All African Leather Fair (AALF) that took place between the 8th–10th June 2018, in Addis Ababa – Ethiopia.  The fair drew stakeholder participation from the Ethiopian Government, local and international leather industry players, leather products manufacturers, and representatives from local and international leather markets.

Speaking during the official launch, the outgoing Solidaridad Ethiopia Country Manager – Mr. Stijn Van Geel said that through the programme, abattoirs will receive technical support to improve practices leading to better quality hides and skins.  He stated that the initiative will also conduct match-making sessions to support European Union market entry for tanneries and leather manufacturers, as well as offer support to local knowledge institutes to facilitate technology transfer that will improve national skills and capacities on cleaner processing practices and sustainable production.


The African Leather Force

The Ethiopian Minister for Industry – Dr. Ambachew Mekonen noted that Ethiopia’s leather industry is in the forefront of the leather sector development within the Eastern and Southern Africa regions. He lauded private sector initiatives and efforts from economic blocks such as the European Union geared towards growing the country’s leather industry.  

Dr. Ambachew reaffirmed the government’s commitment to encourage foreign investment in the livestock sector through the provision of attractive incentives that include duty exemptions on capital goods and construction materials, as well as free access for European and American markets.

Challenges within the Ethiopian Leather Industry

The leather industry has continued to achieve considerable growth globally despite its many challenges. The main constraints experienced along the leather value chain in Ethiopia include:
    a.    Use of environmentally unfriendly tanning methods;
    b.    Poor quality of supplied raw materials;
    c.    Low off-take and recovery rates;
    d.    Lack of skills and technology.

The entry of the GTI programme in Ethiopia will ensure more efficient and sustainable environmental, social and economic production practices in the leather supply chain. The initiative will also uphold good practice in environmental preservation and management, production of quality raw materials, and will ensure inclusivity with the ultimate goal of making the leather industry gender-friendly.

Adoption of alternative leather processing practices that reduce the amount of tannery waste, effluent, water and chemical consumption, can go a long way in ensuring the leather tanning processes meet acceptable international standards, and at the same time remain eco-friendly.

The Green Tanning Initiative is a timely innovation that will not only transform the Ethiopian leather industry operationally and technologically; but also strategically position Ethiopia to claim its place as Africa’s home of sustainable leather.

Learn more about Solidaridad's textile programme here