East Africa’s Leather Industry

East Africa’s leather sector sits on a rich raw material base, playing host to three percent of the world total bovine herd, five percent of the goat-herd and two percent of the sheep. This is as Tanzania holds a total of 30.5 million cattle; Kenya 17.5 million cattle; Uganda 12.8 million cattle; Rwanda 1.39 million cattle; Burundi 0.801 million cattle and South Sudan 11.7 million totaling to 74.7 million cattle. It is for this reason that the sector is earmarked among those that are set to deliver the region’s industrial, social and economic growth.

Sadly just about 10 percent of this resource is exported in processed form with over 90% of trade in leather in the region is in the form of raw and semi-processed hides and skins. The various states are making efforts to increase the amount of processed leather by banning exports of raw and semi-processed hides and skins. This therefore presents immense prospects for value addition, capacity building and establishment of policies that further encourage investment in value-added products, diversification of the sector’s export base and reinvigoration of its potential to create jobs, income and, alleviation of poverty.

Investing in the leather business in East Africa also presents one with an opportunity to plug into other regional economic blocks such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) that comprises of 20 member states with a population of over 390 million people, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) with a population of 345.2 people states and the Economic Community of Central African States. Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda also offer preferential access into the EU market through the EU’s Everything-But-Arms initiative making it worthwhile to any investor wishing to access this market. Together with other sub-Saharan African countries, a number of EAC Partner States also qualify for duty-free access to the US market under the Africa Growth and opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) which offers preferential treatment to a wide range of products originating from developing countries).

The EAC region also offers a window into the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) a market of 1.2 billion people and the eighth economic bloc in the world with a $3-trillion combined GDP and that is expected to more than double by 2050  and the Economic Community of Central African States, and a strong raw material base for the EAC leather industry. The continent hosts 26.32% (0.921 billion) of world livestock population that stands at 3.5 billion. This strong resource offers an estimated 1.3 billion pieces of hides and skins annually that are translated into 23 billion square feet of leather. Demand for footwear in the continent is estimated at 880 million pairs annually with an output of at 154.9 million pairs thus making the continent a net importer of footwear to fill the deficit.  In East Africa an estimated 23.4 Million pairs of shoes are imported into region annually with the demand for leather and leather products in the EAC region continuing to grow faster than supply.