Leather processing firms have reaped benefits following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive calling for the industry’s revival.
Uhuru said all military boots should be bought from local manufacturers. The government plans to process hides and skins before exporting them.
There are plans to set up 5,000 cottage industries, invest in four leather parks and expand existing tanneries. Reddamac Leather Centre founder and chairman of the Tanners Association of Kenya - Robert Njoka - yesterday said he is happy about the directive.
Reddamac was founded 18 years ago and started with 15 staff. The firm now has 150 employees and Njoka said the number could rise to 500 with the revival.
He said high operational costs, including cost of electricity, affect earnings. Another bottleneck is the high number of licences - up to eight - traders are required to get.
“There are also leather dealers who are not members of the lobby group, and it is mostly because they do not meet our standards,” Njoka said.
Njoka has helped grow new tanneries, with one - Amini - started in 2014 in Lungalunga, Nairobi. He urged traders to register their businesses.
Only two of the 16 tanneries across the country are owned by locals. “Although the government was slow, we are happy it has donated 500 acres to set up a leather industrial park,” Njoka said.
He said the Sh1billion set aside to build a treatment plant should be distributed well to help expand the market. Njoka faulted the government for not involving stakeholders.
Reddamac last year trained 14 warders from Kamiti and Athi River prisons in the hope they will pass on leather handling and production skills to inmates. Kenya Leather Development Council CEO Issack Noor said work on the Machakos-based leather park has started with fencing and construction of the wastage treatment plant underway.
The government is working on power supply lines and water provision. Investors will lease space for industries and tanneries. “We already have 21 applications from investors who want to establish their businesses there,” Noor said.
He wants handlers to be trained on dealing with raw materials to avoid diminishing their value. The park will bring together tanneries and leather goods manufacturers’ that meet Nema and public health requirements. “Thorns that scratch the animals affect their skin. Ticks also reduce the quality,” Noor said.