David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, recently visited Kenya as part of a CNFA project.
Founded in 1985, CNFA is a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization that encourages economic growth globally by cultivating entrepreneurship, private enterprise and agricultural development.
As part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program, CNFA seeks volunteers to share their expertise with aspiring entrepreneurs, Fernandez said. Volunteers provide technical assistance for two- to three-week periods in such areas as financial management, cooperative development and product marketing.
“The goal is to improve the food and agricultural section of their economy,” he said.
Fernandez, along with another volunteer, worked with the Kenya Leather Development Council in the western part of the country.
“Our job was to examine the value chain of hides, skins and leather production to identify opportunities and bottlenecks, and make recommendations to improve the value of leather production and leather products in Kenya,” he said.
Local businesses were producing or selling shoes, belts, handbags and other goods.
“We asked a lot of questions to learn where the bottlenecks are and a lot of what we heard was similar,” Fernandez said. “The quality of the hides and therefore the quality of the leather is variable. That makes it difficult to produce quality leather and leather products.”
It’s also a challenge for local entrepreneurs to maintain a supply of leather goods to meet market demand.
“Most were using treadle-type Singer sewing machines that had been modified so they would be powerful enough to work with leather,” Fernandez said. “Because electricity is minimal or unavailable, the work is a very time-consuming process. If they could get a loan, that would allow them to purchase (better) machines. They could very easily pay it off, but they can’t afford the interest.”
The Kenya Leather Development Council is working on solutions, including getting groups of people to work cooperatively.
“KLDC is working to develop a revolving fund that they can use to create loans for these working groups and tanners,” he said. “They are also developing quality standards for leather and hides and working hard to get those enforced.”
KLDC provides training to help local artisans and craftsmen be more successful as business owners, Fernandez said, adding that he appreciates the opportunity to work with the organization and the people of Kenya. “It was a great trip,” he said. “I’d do it again. CNFA did an outstanding job of matching us to KLDC, and made sure everything was handled smoothly. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to help deserving people who are willing to work hard to succeed.”