Oliver Kazunga and Prosper Ndlovu
Zimbabwe has received US$15 million funding from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) to capacitate industrial operations under the leather sector value chain.
Industry and Commerce Minister, Dr Sekai Nzenza, has said Bulawayo would play a leading role in implementation of leather transformation projects, as she confirmed receipt of the critical funding from the 21-member regional trading block, to which Zimbabwe is a member.
Revitalising the leather sector is one of Comesa’s flagship projects, which has seen the bloc establishing a specialised unit, the Africa Leather and Leather Products Institute (ALLPI).
Through this agency, Comesa, with development partner support, has been rolling out a regional leather industry capacity building initiative guided by its 2016-2025 Strategic Plan.
With the endorsement and mandate of the 34th Meeting of the March 2015 Council of Ministers, ALLPI has been active in assisting member states to seize emerging opportunities in the leather sector as an effective economic transformation tool.
In Zimbabwe, ALLPI is assisting the revival of the leather sector with a bias on unlocking the potential of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) producers.
The efforts have resulted in the establishment of the Bulawayo Leather Cluster Factory in 2018, with a capacity to produce about 158 400 pairs of shoes annually.
According to the cluster’s secretary, Mr Fungai Zvinondiramba, the group was targeting regional exports to Sadc.
Early last year the cluster reported that it had received orders of about 1 000 pairs of shoes to Namibia.
Comesa has provided the leather processing equipment worth about €250 000 for small to medium enterprises as well as training in the leather sector in Bulawayo.
The machinery included a skiving machine, sole processing machine, a post machine, belt aging machine, arm machine, shoe lasts, pliers and toe lasting machine.
Zimbabwe enjoys a competitive advantage on the leather value chain given its viable livestock base and skilled manpower. However, over the years it had lost the touch as established manufacturing firms closed down due to a host of adverse macro-economic reasons, which saw many skilled workers losing jobs.
“I am very pleased to let you know that through our engagements with Comesa, we have received US$15 million to capacitate the leather industry and the leather value chain and this will be implemented through close collaboration with the Bulawayo Leather Institute,” said Dr Nzenza.
She was responding to a question in Parliament last week after Zanu-PF legislator for Chegutu West, Dexter Nduna, sought clarity on what the Government was doing to capacitate abattoirs that were losing a lot of leather because of lack of beneficiation to produce tanned leather.
The leather sector is already positioning itself for the expanded market under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, which came into force in January this year.
This has seen key industry players agreeing to synergise under the “Zimbabwe Leather Collective”, a strategic approach to scaling up capacity and increased supply for domestic and international markets.
In November last year, the Government approved the new Zimbabwe Leather Sector Strategy 2021-2030 that is anchored on increased investments and maximising on value addition and beneficiation to promote export-led industrialisation.
The leather sector is one of the key sectors earmarked for sectoral transformation towards high value addition under the National Development Strategy (NDS1 2021-2025), a five-year blue-print that builds towards the broader upper middle-income vision by 2030.
The leather sector is regarded as a low-hanging fruit for the Zimbabwean economy given the country’s comparative advantages in livestock and crop production, which provide key raw materials.
The strategy, which is a successor to the Leather Sector Strategy (2012-2017), aims at increasing the overall competitiveness of the leather value chain in Zimbabwe and enhance access to both local and export markets for the finished products.
The objectives of the new strategy, which seeks to increase capacity utilisation of value-added products from 30 percent to 75 percent by the end of 2030, enhances the application of sustainable production technologies by manufacturing companies from the current 10 percent to 60 percent by 2030 and increasing the export of leather products from 10 percent of production to 40 percent.
Government also hopes that guided by the new strategy, the leather sector would increasingly lobby for the development and reform of 70 percent of the identified policies and legal frameworks for the transformation of the sector by 2030.