The Ethiopian economy is predominantly agrarian. 95% of the population relies on agriculture with cattle breeding playing a significant part. FAO figures show that Ethiopia ranks first in Africa and tenth in the world in bovine population. The slaughter rate is 6.8% for bovines, 33.19% for sheep and 37% for goats.

The data indicates that Ethiopia’s bovine slaughter rate within the African context is rather low, but very high for sheep and goats. According to the above figure, a total of 21 million sheep and 14.6 million goats are slaughtered annually. But not all the hide and skin can be said to be of marketable quality. The annual skin and hide production must also meet the demands of the traditional village industry. Hide and skin, tanned and dressed in the traditional way is still used for clothing, upholstery, bedding, liquid containers and grain bags in the cold regions of the country.

Armenian immigrants established the first tanneries in Ethiopia. Today, there are 19 tanneries and license has now been applied for to set up an additional 25-30 tanning plants. Unfortunately, however, the raw material supply is far below the production capacity even of the currently operating 19 tanneries. None of these plants has at present any prospect to fully utilise its installed capacity.

The leather sector, guided by the policy of the Leather Corporation (1975-1991) had shown marked growth. For one thing, the national tanning capacity was substantially developed to absorb the entire raw material supply. The footwear, garment and other leather article industries fully relied on locally tanned leather.

The industry would stand to benefit if it introduced advanced technology and went over to the production of finished goods rather than the present emphasis on semi-finished products.

The last ten years have witnessed considerable progress in the Ethiopian leather industry. While most African countries still export raw hide and skin, Ethiopia’s export is pickle, wet-blue, crust and semi-finished leather. The growing demand for Ethiopia’s high quality leather garment in Europe and America has led to the success of the sector. But considerable as the success may be, the progress so far achieved is infinitely lower than what has already been achieved by the rest of the world.