Kenya’s textile and leather sectors are expected to register increased productivity as the government embarks on implementing new reforms and increasing resources in a fresh bid to boost production and create job opportunities.
The State has lined up a raft of measures geared towards stimulating growth, creating jobs, expanding local and international market share and increasing earnings to farmers.
Planning PS Saitoti Torome, says the operating capacity of textile industries, ginneries and tanneries has been dismally low due to inadequate raw materials, shortage of skills and high costs of labour.
Torome noted that textiles and leather products are the most consumed items after food, yet their ratings in resource allocation remain relatively low.
“Textiles and leather industries combined are the second largest employer in any country after the food industry. This is because they are related to the number of people in each country and the export market. Second, producing textile and leather items requires a long process that involves many other sectors and skilled and unskilled labour,” he indicated.
Speaking at a Nakuru hotel during deliberations by experts on preparation of the Medium-Term Plan Strategy Paper (MTP) No 4, the Principal Secretary noted that though Kenya is the fifth largest cattle producer in Africa after Ethiopia, Chad, Sudan and Tanzania, its leather trade remained low.
“That means most of our leather goes to waste, which is a lost opportunity for employment creation, improved livelihoods and revenue collection by the government. In MTP No 4, we are going to emphasize on developing the textiles and leather industries as a grand opportunity for Kenya’s industrialization and creation of sustainable employment,” he affirmed.
According to a Report titled The State of Second-Hand Clothes and Footwear Trade in Kenya, published on March 4, 2021, by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kenyans spent Sh197.5 billion in 2019 on clothes and footwear.
“Some 2.5 percent of private consumption in Kenya was spent on clothing and footwear for the year 2019. This spending amounts to Sh197.5 billion which comes to an average of Sh4, 150 per person per year for all purchases of second-hand garments, new clothes, and footwear,” reads the report.
Mr. Torome stressed that MTP No 4 will come up with new strategies to increase uptake of locally designed and manufactured apparel, textiles, leather and accessories and support existing ones including the “Buy Kenya Build Kenya” campaign.
The Principal Secretary underscored the need to address lack of proper skin and hide management techniques, as well as poor choice of breeds that have over the years remained one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the leather industry.
“We need to promote new techniques in flaying hides and skins in the country for small stock as well as mechanized techniques. In many cases the value of the hide or skin may constitute a significant proportion of the total value of the animal. Choice of breeds should not pose a threat to Kenya’s hides and skins exports to destinations such as Europe,” Mr. Torome stressed.
Conservative estimates have put the Kenyan leather industry value at about Sh50 billion annually or $430 million. About 90 per cent of the country’s leather export is the low value partially processed wet blue leather.
Experts argue that full processing of the leather could create at least 50,000 additional jobs and earn the country an extra Sh17 to 28 billion.
He indicated that the State will come up with incentives and friendly policies that will enable farmers in cotton growing counties, including Busia, Migori, Baringo, Siaya, Lamu and Homa Bay have easy and reliable access to affordable certified seed and ready market for the produce with attractive prices to motivate them to invest in the cash crop.
The crop is also grown in Tana River, Embu, Kitui, Meru, Machakos, Kirinyaga and Makueni counties.
Records from the Directorate of Fibre Crops indicate that Kenya produces an average of 5,300 tons (25,000 bales) of cotton against the demand of about 38,000 tonnes (200,000 bales) annually with the deficit worth about Sh17 billion being imported from neighboring countries.
It further produces less than 12 million square metres of woven fabric per year, against a market demand of approximately 171 million square metres.
According to the Directorate, although Kenya has a huge potential for cotton production with at least 400,000 hectares of land suitable for cotton, less than 35,000 hectares are under the crop.
Mr. Torome says the State would continue encouraging farmers to embrace Bacillus Thuringiensis cotton variety, Kenya’s first genetically modified, insect-resistant cotton seeds, to boost cotton farming as well as quality.
It has taken scientists years of research to have the GM cotton approved for cultivation in Kenya.
One stem of BT cotton produces 40 bolls while conventional varieties produce 15 to 20 bolls, making the new variety superior.
Scientists have argued that the BT cotton is resistant to pests and diseases and has the ability to withstand drought and it is the solution to the notorious bollworms that have been affecting production of the crop in the country.
The MTP No 4 would recommend friendly policies towards establishment of new ginneries and tanneries and revival of collapsed ones, the PS indicated.
There are about four active ginneries in the country in Meru, Baringo, Makueni and Kitui counties and 16 licensed tanneries spread out in Nakuru, Kiambu, Nairobi, Machakos, Kilifi and Narok counties.
While stating that revamping the Kenya leather sector has significant promises of increasing incomes, creating jobs and reducing poverty particularly in semi-arid lands, Torome observed that most leather products are exported in semi-processed form thus attracting cheap prices leading to substantial loss in terms of revenue as well as market share.
“Efforts will be focused in activating country systems in leather industry to enhance production and thus assist in tackling most of the economic imbalances especially in the Arid and Semi-Arid Counties,” The Principal Secretary explained.
The PS said that a number of initiatives will be pursued to ensure the products are properly enriched before they are exported to regional and international markets.
Before the early 90s, Kenya’s tanning industry thrived due to the export compensation. By then, the industry had 19 tanneries with a capital investment worth Sh3.8 billion, employed 4,000 people and operated at an average capacity utilization of 80 percent.
However, a significant decline in the leather industry was observed with the abolishment in 1990 of the 22 per cent export compensation.
This resulted in the drop in the average capacity utilization, from 80 per cent to 30 per cent with the number of tanneries reducing to nine with a minimal increase to 11 in 2004/05.
Torome added that the Directorate of Fibre Crops would continue being supported to set good prices for cotton farmers and create a ready market for farmers by having them sign contracts with the ginneries, offering them purchase without delay after harvesting, thereby minimizing losses and cutting storage costs.
By Jane Ngugi and Dennis Rasto