Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (5) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Performance of hides and skins subsector in Botswana: A critical review

O Koloka and J C Moreki

Department of Animal Production, Ministry of Agriculture, Private Bag 0032 Gaborone, Botswana


Botswana relies heavily on the mining sector for its economic growth and foreign exchange though other avenues such as the leather industry have a great potential for economic diversification. The abundance of raw material in the form of hides and skins from cattle and smallstock (sheep and goats) which form part of the livelihoods of Botswana, play a crucial role in creating employment opportunities for both rural and urban communities.


Despite the usefulness of hides and skins and their abundance in Botswana, the leather industry remains underdeveloped resulting in hides and skins not reaching the markets. Hides and skins are still viewed as by-products of the meat industry instead of raw material for the leather industry; hence much emphasis is on meat. Branding affects the quality of hides, hence there is need to review the Branding of Cattle Act. Currently, benefits that could be reaped from these by-products of the meat industry remain unexploited resulting in the true value of hides and skins remaining unknown to an ordinary Motswana (citizen). Improvements in hides and skins handling can enhance the role of the leather industry in food security, poverty alleviation and rural employment.

Keywords: export levy, hides, putrefaction, skins, smallstock, tanning, wetblue


Botswana is a land locked country and covers an area of 582 000 km2. It is bordered by the Republic of South Africa (RSA) to the south, Zimbabwe to the east, Angola and Zambia on the north and Namibia to the west. The country is largely arid or semi-arid, with mean annual rainfall ranging from over 650 mm in the north-east to less than 250 mm in the south-west (National Development Plan (NDP 7) 1991). Rainfall is highly erratic and unreliable and droughts are common. Botswana’s harsh climate supports livestock rearing and wildlife at low densities and dryland cropping in some areas. Agriculture’s share of gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to be about 2%, of which 80% is from livestock.


In Botswana, land is divided into tribal (customary or communal land) (72%), stateland (23%) and freehold land (5%) (Mathuba 2003). Under customary land tenure, land is free and individuals are entitled to land for residence, livestock grazing and arable farming. However, individuals have exclusive rights to boreholes, residential and arable land while the rest of the land remains a community property. In freehold land is leased for a stipulated period. This gives the owners absolute rights over the land. Stateland comprises national parks and game reserves, forest reserves and some wildlife management areas. Stateland is administered by a District commissioner on behalf of the Office of the President and Department of Lands, while tribal land is administered by Land Boards (Ministry of Local Government, Lands and Housing (MLGLH) 1992).


As a result of the differences in the land tenure systems, the majority of the livestock are found in the communal system. Over 80% of livestock is still reared under the communal system of management (Mannathoko 1999). Therefore, animal husbandry practices are usually compromised because of the different practices carried out by various groups or individuals in shared grazing areas. Overgrazing, uncontrolled breeding as well as disease control are some of the challenges faced by communal livestock farmers. On the other hand, in freehold farms, farming is commercialised. Breeding and animal husbandry practises are regarded highly hence livestock under such a land tenure system are improved.


Since tribal land is the main source of livelihood for the majority of the human population, government from time to time formulates programmes to promote farming in communal areas. Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development (LIMID) as one of the programmes was established to help in providing water to livestock,  diversifying the economy through guinea fowl farming and alleviate poverty through packages extended to resource poor individuals (Ministry of Agriculture 2007).


Botswana is one of the few African countries which export beef to the European Union (EU) markets. There are three export abattoirs in Botswana. However, only two abattoirs export beef to the EU. With a cattle population of about 2.35 millions and a well established meat industry, other industries could be set up to benefit from by-products of the meat industry (e.g., hides, skins, and tallow). Table 1 shows livestock populations (except chickens) in Botswana for the year 2008. Currently, the leather industry which is a beneficiary of the well established meat industry is underdeveloped. As a result, not all hides and skins harvested from the meat industry reach the markets.

Table 1.  Livestock populations (2008)


Number of Livestock


2 353 186


161 100


576 663


126 937


31 698


9 878

Source: Department of Veterinary Services 2008

The use of hides and skins dates a very long time ago. Therefore, leather making is one of the oldest trades of mankind. Due to the skin’s versatility and its nature, being susceptible to putrefaction, drying and hardening off, man devised means of preserving it in different ways suited to the various intended uses. The skins were smoked over an open fire to prevent them from rotting (John 1997). Therefore, more preservative methods were developed and improved leading to the birth of tanning. The process of tanning improved from the use of animal fat, brain, and other substances/methods purposely done for softening and arresting putrefaction to the use of today’s chemicals to produce fashionable and variable leathers to cover various products to meet the modern world needs.


No study has been undertaken on hides and skins production in Botswana. Therefore, a study was undertaken to investigate the production of hides and skins in Botswana for the past 10 years, to highlight constraints, and suggest ways of improving hides quality.


Hides and skins production 

Hides and skins are one of the most valuable exports for many developing countries and play an integral role in the livelihoods of communities as a source of income and employment. In Botswana, hides and skins come from Botswana meat Commission (BMC), municipal abattoirs, butcheries and ceremonial activities (e.g., weddings and funerals). BMC hides are derived from animals slaughtered mainly for the export market while non-BMC hides are from animals slaughtered for ceremonial activities and local butcheries.  Only a small portion of non-BMC hides reach the markets as they are of low quality. As a result, hides and skins produced are low compared to the number of livestock slaughtered as some are disposed of in landfills. Botswana used to export ostrich skins but because of the closure of the abattoir, the sales have been halted. BMC no longer slaughter smallstock because of low throughput.


BMC and the non-BMC slaughter facilities compete for the same animals hence the quality of hides should be the same but due to modern flaying equipment, good handling practices and knowledge on hide’s value, BMC hides are of a better quality. Cattle prices at BMC and non-BMC markets determine the volumes of hides produced; hence the number of hides fluctuates between the two. The market which offers better prices usually attracts a high number of slaughter animals.


Hides and skins in Botswana are used by artisan tanners, as well as, hides and skins collectors, Tannery Industries Botswana (TIB), hides and skins exporters and individuals for domestic uses such as traditional mats and whiplashes. Collectors are responsible for gathering hides together for the market while artisan tanners mainly use skins for the production of goods for the local markets and tourists. TIB, the only local processing (retanning) plant depends on contract tanning and imports of wetblue from the RSA for its production which include shoe leather, upholstery, garment and other forms of leather for the global market. Due to lack of a wetblue tannery in the country, the bulk of raw hides are exported to RSA, Namibia and China.


Livestock prices, diseases and leather demand inter alia influence the production of hides and skins in Botswana resulting in fluctuations in their collection. Table 2 shows hides and skins production over the past 10 years.

Table 2.  Hides and skins production (1999 to 2009)



BMC abattoirs






153 274

87 193

140 245

1 406


155 443

47 593

160 412



164 214

65 302

168 753



157 702

55 302

114 000



202 132

42 570

153 498



163 424

42 034

130 051



117 488

38 471

117 422



102 265

42 412

117 000



130 651

47 374

171 229



113 288

13 258

99 541



92 999


135 286


Source: Hides and Skins Annual Reports 2003, 2007 and 2009 

* Data not available

**No slaughter of smallstock due to low throughput

Even though the consumption of meat has increased over the years, hides produced do not reflect such a scenario. This indicates that some hides from non-BMC kills do not reach the markets. In 1999, 153 274 hides were collected while 92 999 hides were collected in 2009. Unlike hides, skins do not have any market at the moment hence a decline in their collection over the years. Skins collection declined from 87 193 in 1999 to 13 258 in 2008. The decline in hides collection is because of an increase in export levy which came into effect in 2007. Artisan tanning by rural communities which has intensified over the years also contributed to a decline in skins collected.


Figure 1 illustrates the trends in hides’ production over the past decade. Disease outbreaks, low prices of hides, global recession and high export levy fees introduced in 2008 are the contributory factors to low hides production.

Figure 1.  Hides production in Botswana

As shown in Figure 1, about 355 630 hides were collected in 2003. This represents the highest number of hides collected over a 10 year period. On the other hand, 212 829 hides were collected in 2008, representing the lowest hide collection over the same period. The high collection in 2003 can be attributed to good prices and extension education carried out through the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) project. On the other hand, low collection rate in 2008 is attributable to an increase in the export levy fee from BWP0.01 to BWP0.80 per kilogram of wet salted hide.  To export a hide costs about BWP16.00, an equivalent of about US$3.00. High export levy fees resulted in the closure of hides and skins collection points because production costs had gone high. To counter the effects of high levy fees, collectors offered producers as little as BWP 5.00 for a piece of hide. This resulted in the disposal of hides at landfills. On the other hand, the quality of hides which reach the markets deteriorated because of lack of incentives for producing quality hides. As a result the quality and quantity of hides declined thus affecting exports.


Hides defects and type 

The quality of hides produced in Botswana is low compared to those from neighbouring RSA and Namibia. About five main defects persist on local hides including scratches, brand marks, flay cuts, putrefaction, and tick/insect bites. Other defects are due to skin diseases (Lumpy Skin Disease), barbed wires and horn rakes.


Causes of defects


As indicated earlier, the majority of livestock roam freely in the wilderness and are subjected to thorny and shrubby vegetation resulting in scratched hides. Though the scratches cannot be easily detected on live animals, during the tanning of hides into leather they become clearly visible resulting in low quality leather. Secondly, indiscriminate branding of cattle on valuable parts of the hides is of a great concern especially in areas where Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is prevalent (infected areas). Branding is also a statute for the EU meat market. Therefore, much emphasis is put on the meat market at the expense of the leather industry which is not yet fully exploited in Botswana. Other branding defects include those induced during change of ownership, zonal branding and identifications in feedlots. This implies that there is need to revise the branding Act as it encourages multiple branding which lowers the quality of hides.


According to the Branding of Cattle Act of 1986, the first brand shall be imprinted on the left thigh immediately above the line drawn horizontally through the stifle joint and every subsequent brand shall, where there is sufficient space for the purpose , be imprinted on the same part of the animal and immediately below the last brand. The Act states that if there is no area left for branding, one can move to the other side of the animal. This further lowers the value of the hide.


The type of flaying equipment also plays a major role in the production of good quality hides. Almost all slaughter facilities except BMC abattoirs use hand flaying. As a result, flay cuts and gouges are a common feature on hides and skins. Delays in preservation due to lack of knowledge on the part of farmers and/or lack of incentives for good prepared hides result in putrefaction, thus rendering the hide unusable. Tick and insect bites also degrade or lower the quality of hides mainly in the swamps/delta areas where there is ample supply of water and animal husbandry is inadequate.




Some major constraints in the leather industry include: 


Suggested ways of improving the quality of hides 

The main defects which persist on Botswana hides are mainly man made and hence can be avoided to improve the quality of hides. These include:



The authors wish to thank Ms. Tshepiso Powe for assistance with compilation of data.



Branding of Cattle Act 1986 Department of Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana. Chapter 36:02, Section 22.


Department of Veterinary Services 2008 Livestock Statistics Ministry of Agriculture Gaborone, Botswana


John G 1996 Possible defects in leather production: Definitions, causes, consequences, remedies and types of leather Europaring 24 D-68623 Lampertheim. p.11.


Kanagaraj J, Sastry T P and Rose C 2004 Effective preservation of raw goat skins for the reduction of total dissolved solids. Journal of Cleaner Production Volume 13,  Issue 9, July 2005, Pages 959-964


Mannathoko M 1999 Botswana Beef Markets. In, Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Livestock Marketing Department of Animal Health and Production, Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana. p.55.


Mathuba B M 2003 A paper presented at an International Workshop on Land Policies in Southern Africa Berlin, Germany Ministry of Lands and Housing. Gaborone, Botswana.


Ministry of Agriculture 2007Agricultural Support Schemes Guidelines Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana.


MLGLH (Ministry of Local Government, Lands and Housing) 1992 Central District Planning Study: Main Report, Volume 1. Gaborone, Botswana.


NDP (National Development Plan) 7 1991 Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Government Printer Gaborone. pp.3-5.

Received 17 March 2010; Accepted 18 March 2010; Published 1 May 2010

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