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Zambezi gearing up for whole hide upholstery leather production

Published: 3rd Mar 2021
Author: By Johnny Kleynhans; ConsulTan
Not much good news due to the lockdowns which have seriously affected the markets locally and internationally. However optimism prevails at Zambezi Tanners, which is re-equipping for full bovine hide production.
This is in line with the ongoing demand for upholstery leather, which is currently being imported. A Zimbabwean leather furniture manufacturer, which exports to other SADC countries, wants to source locally. Overall, in Zimbabwe, there is demand for up to 100 000 ft², which is a big chunk of leather.
The re-equipping programme should start in April this year. However, I predict full production will only kick in around July.
One issue facing the tannery is sourcing commercial grade hides - these being of the right weight range and quality. The big, well managed cattle ranches are almost a thing of the past. Today the source is private abattoirs who have feedlots of cattle purchased from communal farmers. Trading in cattle by communal farmers results in a lot of rebranding, a lot of which are way out of spec and random. As a result all hides are only suitable for a corrected grain finish.
Exotic leathers are still being produced and exported, but on a lesser scale than previous years. Exotic leathers, mainly elephant and hippo, are still in demand in some foreign markets - particularly elephant leather for the Texas boot market.
However, it seems the United States will kill the trophy hunting industry, at least in Africa, so the raw material is not as easy to source as it was in years gone by. The pandemic had an enormous effect on the processional hunters last year and does not look like being any better this year. So the source of raw hides is reliant on PAC (problem animal control ). As you can appreciate, this only takes place in certain parts of the country where these wild animals live. Sadly, human/wildlife conflict is the cause for PAC action. Settler farmers often border on or have expanded into wildlife areas, thus causing the conflicts.  Efforts are being made to reduce these human/wildlife conflicts, the results of which, I'm not certain of as yet.
Zambezi Tanners' traditional leathers, crocodile and ostrich, are normally cyclical, reaching unaffordable peaks, then crashing to almost nothing, and building back up over 2 years or so. That hasn't happened this time; the prices have just stayed down.

In general, I'm not confident about the future of exotic leathers. I think upholstery is a much more secure route. 

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