Dishing the dirt

7 February 2008

I am very well aware that Limeblast concentrates very much, maybe too much, on Africa and on development aid in our industry to Africa. Readers have observed that they appreciate reading about this but would like to have the same dirt dished out from other regions as well.

That's easier said than done. I am convinced that abuse is not only in Africa, but at the same time I am also convinced that nowhere else in the world is there so much abuse as in Africa. I insist on telling you the stories because I think that you have to know what's going on and with that I hope that one day we can crack through the armour of the Power House permitting things to be done rather than only being said. I know I am repeating myself but that's because the situations repeat themselves in spite of being proposed as innovative. I know for a fact from talks and feedback that in at least eight African countries, organisations and small meat processing enterprises wish to have the SFF installed in local abattoirs. Requests for assistance have been extended to some international organisations, who all appear more than willing to comply. These organisations don't necessarily have their own funds and frequently depend for the development and implementation of projects to a great extent on sponsors or organisations such as the Common Fund of Commodities (CFC), a UN agency, who finance projects. Several years ago I submitted a project proposal to CFC for the distribution of the SFF in ten African development countries, but the proposal was flatly refused for reasons I have already published, but which had nothing to do with the merit of the SFF, but simply with the unwillingness of CFC to cooperate with me or any project in which I am or could be involved. This unprofessional and petty attitude of CFC has been confirmed when several West African countries recently requested that the SFF be included in a CFC financed project and were flatly refused. The justification of the refusal was that it was inconceivable to spend money on travel and assistance for a low cost device such as the SFF. This from people who draw huge salaries and who travel business class and stay in five star hotels without ever getting their hands dirty, all paid for by the international community or, better still, you and me the taxpayers. The real reason is that I appear to be officially on the CFC blacklist. Flattering and certainly not surprising, BUT this is against the rules and regulations of the UN, who actually invite employees and collaborators to be critical and report abnormal situations, guaranteeing that those who report will not be boycotted or hampered in their UN career. CFC might want to re-read this chapter, which I guess also applies to them! A short while ago I was sounded out as to whether I would be prepared to waive my intellectual property rights on the SFF, allowing CFC to distribute the SFF through their own system. That's an interesting thought. I am looking forward to hearing from CFC on the subject. Last July an SFF was installed, financed by the ITC from Geneva, at a medium size city abattoir in Saharan Africa and instead of installing a mechanical block-pulley, an electrical block-pulley was used. The results were amazing. Hides are coming off in less than 15 seconds! Absolutely perfect with far less effort for the flayers! At the Unido organised Leather and Leather Products Industry Panel meeting, held in Gramado in Brazil, May 20-23, it was again demonstrated how money is wasted in repeat studies and useless project proposals which mirror earlier proposals. One paper, commissioned by Unido at a presumed cost of $10,000, dealt with the ‘Present and Future Role of Africa in the World Leather and Derived Products Industry and Trade'. For the first ten pages, this paper dwells on history, statistics and diagrams which have been hashed and rehashed over tens of times in previous papers which have probably been financed by the same organisation(s) that financed the current paper. Another four pages deal with other statistics such as import duties and export regulations, which are recorded data and publicly known facts. The paper then includes a chapter called ‘Leather-based Industry Development' which advises the panel that ‘often plants were started with wrong plant design, over capacities created and most with over establishment of personnel'. Further, ‘the African tanneries are facing challenges in addressing the environmental issues, due to poor housekeeping practices, lack of well defined process control, eg pH measurements, temperature control.' Or, ‘African countries have been particularly weak in the area of footwear and leather products manufacture.' These are just a few of the issues that were presented. Three pages analyse the African footwear market just like it was done umpteen times before, until on page 20 we reach the sector with Recommendations and Proposed Way Forward', the new slogan. There we find a list of problems and proposed activities over five pages of which I extract a few: ‘Quality improvement of raw hides and skins' (where have I heard that before..?), ‘Awareness campaign and training of butchers' (at least three full projects costing 5/+ million dollars were run on the subject without any result whatsoever),  ‘Proactively seek joint-ventures' (an outdated slogan), ‘Adopt new technologies' (without telling the panel which). The paper finishes with a three page list of countries and their leather and leather related factories and productions, data available at a variety of websites amongst which the earlier mentioned association's. What is missing in the paper is, of course, the mention of the series of total failures of projects that dealt with hides and skins improvement in a variety of countries. No auto-criticism! Think positive! Make the same mistakes all over again! Once you have read it all, the only reaction you can have is asking yourself ‘so what's new? Did people have to fly out to Brazil, expenses paid, for a four-day meeting to get acquainted with this?' Who had the brilliant idea of wasting taxpayer's money on commissioning this paper? We knew it all as we have read it all before in other similar papers, not once or twice, but tens of times. This report does not submit any concrete proposals, only known theories. It's the classic paper designed to generate income, not to resolve anything. What is going to be done about all these problems of which for at least a decade everybody has known about through a number of research papers? Write new papers? The answer to some of the above listed problems was presented at the same Gramado meeting in the form of a ‘Project Concept' dealing with ‘Grading and Pricing of Wet-Blue Hides and Skins in Esalia Countries' (haven't we heard that also before?). The project proposal for which the Draft Working Paper was presented is projected to cost a cool US$1,890,000. In this project concept the word ‘Esalia' features 43 times, ‘Unido' 14 times, FAO 4 times and CFC 8 times on just 17 pages. One would almost think that we are looking at a tailor-made project proposal for which everything has already been decided far away from the public eye. No bets are taken for which organisation will be selected as the Project Execution Agency in case this project is commissioned to keep the air conditioner running and the business class trips paid! That's food for the next Limeblast. Sam Setter [email protected]

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