Mwebe said Uganda has seven medium-sized tanneries and several small ones, but there is no tanner that processes hides and skins into finished leather for export. The hides and skins are only processed up to wet-blue. “Other countries make the finished leather,” said Mwebe. He said this has hindered the growth of the industry and local factories are deprived of by-products that could be put to other uses.

“We should not stop at just making wet-blue, but also go an extra mile to make finished leather. This will also give us by-products that will increase earnings from hides and skins,” said Mwebe. The absence of more tanners has also fuelled the import of cheap and synthetic products. This has frustrated efforts by the footwear factories in Uganda. Mwebe said in Ethiopia, tanners had opened up footwear shops, which has enabled the country penetrate regional markets.

It is estimated that Ugandans buy 25 million pairs of shoes every year. Of these, only one million are produced in the country. The rest are imported. This has been partly blamed on a lack of awareness of the existence of locally made leather products in Uganda, according to Tom Mukiibi, the executive manager of Crane Shoes and Crafts in Kampala. Mukiibi says leather can be got from fish, snakes and wild animals in addition to domesticated animals such as goats, sheep and cattle.

Figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics show that Uganda has potential to produce 1.4 million cattle hides, 3.1 million goatskins and 0.68 million sheepskins annually. However, collection rates currently average at 1.2 million hides, 2.4 million goatskins and 0.54 million
sheep skins. Most of the hides and skins produced are exported in raw or semi-processed form. Out of the five major tanning industries, it is only the Jinja-based Leather Industries of Uganda that processes hides and skins up to finished product stage – ready for use in the local market. The other four tanneries; Skyfat Tanneries, Novelty Investment, Jambo Tannery and Gomba Fish Skins Industry, only process hides and skins to wet-blue for export. 

Ugandan tanneries have also been accused of polluting the environment; partly due to lack of a plant that processes wastes. The problem has been compounded by the fact that most tanneries are located in urban centres.  However, a South African company is looking at building a waste treatment plant in the country.

Source: New Vision