Almost two years ago I announced my collaboration with the International Trade Centre in Geneva for the development of an all encompassing leather website. We, my ITC supervising officer and myself, started off with a huge amount of enthusiasm hoping to be able to launch a first framework website in September 2001.

With the help of many, and a really good understanding with my Geneva supervisor, the database for the website was growing steadily. There were, logically, some differences of opinion, mainly about the graphics, but that being a matter of taste and not of substance could have been resolved easily.

With the field of action being gigantic we soon understood we had taken a larger bite than we could swallow, hence the first on-line target date of September could not be reached. Then disaster struck. My original contact in Geneva was needed full time elsewhere and could not be directly involved anymore in the day-to-day dialogue with me and I had to deal with a new contact person who had no experience whatsoever with the leather trade.

From being a simple website, as initially planned to save (taxpayer’s) money, and stay within a relatively small budget, far greater and hugely more expensive (I wonder what kind of a budget was set aside) goals were put forward with sophisticated programming far beyond my capacity.

I was kept totally in the dark to a point where an intern e-mailed saying he was not allowed to disclose what he was doing. An odd definition of collaboration! Suddenly my ideas were not my ideas anymore.

Months went by and the launch date was constantly postponed. The latest target date for the launch during Meet In Africa 2002 came and passed. I proposed to get on-line anyway and expand as well as correct the database step by step with the help of the industry.

This was not accepted as the database had to be close to perfect, which in my view is impossible. I was specifically told that I would not be allowed to put anything that was connected with the developing official website on-line on the Limeblast website.

At one point I was asked to read an article written by an intern in Geneva about pollution for on-line use that was intended to put our industry in a positive light, but if actually published would be deadlier than cobra poison. I resigned, unable to work with my new contact, totally fed up.

If, however, the original conditions when I started my collaboration would return, I would be available to pick up where I left as I believe I can make a constructive contribution to the website. ITC say they are on the right track with the website but don’t say when it will come on-line. Whatever and whenever, I sincerely hope it will be a success.

That was the bad news, and here comes the good news. A year has passed since I started the launch of the ‘Gadget’, now more appropriately called the SFF, or Static Flaying Frame. In contrast with my personal experience with the website, this is a success story which I hope will continue.

After the display in Tunis one of the sponsors, Unido in Vienna by courtesy of Jakov Buljan, whom I wish to thank publicly, was able to follow up on their support and made funds available for me to go to Chennai and set up an SFF at the Perambur slaughterhouse, built in 1903. The preparations were done locally by Unido Chennai, Mr Saharanaman and their capable Mr Viswanathan in particular, with the assistance of CLRI scientist Mr Lakshmanan, who felt so deeply involved that he forgot sometimes that SFF was mine and not his.

We were able to have two SFFs constructed locally. We bought (Unido paid) the necessary hardware off the shelf ‘in the market’ and within one full working day one SFF was constructed. The total cost of one SFF, chain pulley and chain was approximately Rs9,000 rupees, more or less $ 200 – which proves my point that the SFF is accessible to anybody!

The SFF was installed in a rather difficult environment. When the first hide was pulled it took 20 minutes….. The fourth hide however, a perfect machine flayed hide, came off in just 90 seconds! Further comments seem superfluous.

In the ten days I was in Chennai I learned a lot, something I’d like to share with you. When implementing the SFF somewhere, local conditions must be understood. First of all abattoirs in India are organised in a way that the municipality puts the building, water, electricity and some staff at the disposal of butchers, who all have an assigned working space.

At one single moment there can be as many as 40 carcases being processed. The slaughterhouse in Perambur caters to some 40-50 butchers who employ up to 1,000 workers, a principle which I understand is followed basically all over India!

During normal working hours some 3-400 people can be present. We had to deal with the concerns of the workers who feared that automation would be followed by a loss of jobs.

We had to deal with consumer requirements who want to see their meat with fat which with hand flaying remains 100% on the meat, whereas with hot machine flaying it remains only partly on the carcase and partly on the hide, being the weakest link between hide and meat.

Due to the personal intervention of M Hashim, chairman of CLE, and Mr Viswanathan’s diplomacy, it was possible to convince butchers and workers that ultimately they would also benefit from the deployment of the SFF which was crucial in having the SFF accepted.

My thanks also go to Dr N Jayaraman, superintendent of the abattoir of Perambur for account of the Corporation of Chennai, who provided us with the maximum possible assistance.

CLRI Chennai will undertake to deploy the SFF among some selected slaughterhouses as well as cattle recovery centres, and help to promote the distribution of the SFF in Asia.

ITC is planning to set up a prototype of the SFF in Bangladesh.

Unido has expressed great interest in setting up several SFF projects in a multitude of Sub Saharan countries and the first SFFs should be operating in Kenya when this Limeblast reaches you.

There is always a negative point. Money is the main obstacle. I realise there are many projects, each of which has a priority over another for the developing world. You can of course spend a dollar only once, but then I am not asking for millions. I have knocked on many doors and came to the conclusion that it is more difficult to raise funds for relatively small amounts than for large.

I’d have expected more collaboration in general from institutions who act as sponsors for development projects. All seem to be tied down with rules and regulations, the implementation of which probably costs more than small projects. Some are hiding behind those rules and told me I was barking up the wrong tree.

A friend, who knows, told me I should be nicer to these financial institutions as that would put them in a better mood. I couldn’t believe my ears.

Development money comes from the taxpayer’s pocket and those who handle this money hold their jobs by the grace of the taxpayer but behave as if they personally generated each and every dollar bill. The way some reply it seems they do us a favour to work for us!!!

To end nevertheless on a bright note I think we are really on the right track with the distribution of the SFF.

Sam Setter