The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido), in co-operation with the Italian government, have agreed a two phase project to rejuvenate the local leather industry at a cost of $700,000 (KSh55 million). The first phase of the project was concerned with identifying bottlenecks in the industry and their possible solution and was completed between June and December 2004.

Speaking at a ceremony in Nairobi to mark the inauguration of Phase Two, Unido official Mrs Aurelia Calabro-Bellamoli said: ‘Unido intends to upgrade and expand the Training and Production Centre for the Shoe Industry (TPCSI), the Leather Development Centre (LDC), by improved training methods, co-ordinating training programmes, up-grading instructors to carry out extension services including visits to similar institutes overseas, and determining specifications for new or up-graded equipment at the two institutions.

‘The aim is to produce leathergoods with the ‘Made in Kenya’ label which will be a guarantee of high quality products. One suggestion is that ‘clustering’ of small units will allow faster dissemination of technology and co-operation will give greater access to credit and machinery purchase.’

She added: ‘It is of concern that Kenyan leather is still low in quality, mainly due to poor handling both before and after slaughter, and it is vital to introduce an efficient grading system aimed at quality not just at price. Other threats facing the Kenyan leather market include imports of second hand shoes, competition from Asian countries, and exports of raw materials through indirect subsidies.’

A most important factor, which she did not mention, is the degree of corruption in the hide and skins export/import sectors, not just in Kenya but intra-country trade within East Africa. This involves not only local politicians and businessmen but, according to recent press reports, the Russian mafia, attracted by the well-publicised high level of corruption existing in the Kenya government!