Nigeria Losing Out of $75 Billion Leather Industry Due to “Ponmo” Consumption, Expert Says

Olufemi Aluko, of the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, says Nigeria is losing out in the pack of countries competing for the $75 billion global leather industry because of “ponmo” (animal hide/skin) consumption.

Aluko blamed the situation on the country’s neglect of the leather products industry in favour of oil production and consumption of its hides and skin as ponmo.

He cited a global industry report as confirming the situation, urging the nation’s policy drivers to refocus on the sector as it holds great potential for export earning and employment.

“As we strive to diversify the nation’s economy I advise the Federal Government to create sound, supportive and transparent policies that will revive leather goods industries in Nigeria.”

Aluko further stated, “Nigerian leather goods businesses must develop procedures to ensure developed markets where products are compliant with environmental and social responsibility requirements as well as international standards.’’

The lecturer explained that the formal leather goods industry had declined almost to extinction which could only be revived by transparent business policies.

According to him, the formal leather goods sector must be revived particularly to supply the domestic, regional and international markets.

He said that considerable hard work would be required by the public and private sectors in coordination for the sector to make considerable further progress but this is necessary as we refocus our economy and use of our abundant hides and skins for leather products rather than for consumption as ponmo.

The lecturer added that economic growth and employment benefits from the sector were potentially considerable.
“Nigeria is, globally, perhaps the most important exporter of light leather. The leather tanning sector has made remarkable progress in recent years as it has progressed from export of raw and wet blue leather to finished leather.’’

In spite of the fact that Ponmo, a delicacy made from hides and skin has been popularised mostly by the people of the South West, it has no nutritional value, Yemisi Olowookere, a Nutritionist at Garki Hospital General Hospital, Abuja, said.

“Its continous consumption has continue to generate concerns on its adverse effect on the tanning and leather industry in the country,’’ Olowookere said .

According to her, Ponmo, is basically cow skin that has been processed to look similar to beef which is sold in the markets and an important ingredient in the preparation of several stews in various cultures.

“Most Nigerians love Ponmo so much that some believe a good day meal is incomplete without It; Ponmo is a regular sight at parties and several public outings, served in different forms. It would be quite shocking for some people to know that Ponmo contains little or next to nothing in terms of nutritional value,’’ Olowookere said.

She said the classification of Ponmo was based on their mode of preparation and colour, adding that some are white, cream and brown. Olowookere raised concerns over some of the health status of some of the animals killed which must have been ill and undergoing treatments.

He noted that rearers sometimes ignore such situation and will go ahead to kill them, leaving the buyers vulnerable to chemicals in the animal skin.

“Some of the animals because of the ailments, they are usually given injection with contains chemicals.People don’t allow these chemicals to complete its cycle and be removed from the body; they sometimes go ahead to kill these animals. So, if you consume the ponmo, the tendency is that you are consuming the chemicals directly because the skin part of the animal retains most of the harmful substances,’’ Olowokere said.

She warned Nigerians to be careful of consuming ponmo as the cow skins are usually not prepared in the best conditions.

Olowookere said before the ponmo was brought to the market, a lot of different unhygienic substances such as trash, wood, charcoal, rubber tyres and so on, are thrown into the furnace to sustain the blazing heat.

She, however advised that it was best to eat fish rather than ponmo.

Yakub Matanmi, Chairman, Ponmo Dealers Association, Mushin Market said that the consumption of cow’s skin has been an age-long practice which no government could stop.

He said that the survival of countless people such as the butcher, cleaner and seller depends on the product.

“I don’t think the government can just stop the consumption of ponmo, so many things will go wrong. It is from this business the sellers, cleaners and butchers get to make a living and send our children to school, if you say we should start selling it as leather, we may not make as much profit. But if eventually the product is banned totally by the government, there is really nothing we can do about it, but that will definitely be the end of our business,” he said.

Matanmi said that the volume of ponmo consumed daily across the country could not be calculated, as more low-income earners and also wealthy people use it.

Another seller in Oyingbo market, who declined to give his identity said that the demand for the product was higher than the usual beef, because it was cheaper and used for more purposes.

He said that the product was popular among all tribes, thus a ban on it would affect a lot of people, including the consumers.

Former Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina, last year said that the Federal government, may have concluded plans to discourage the consumption of the popular delicacy.

Adesina told stakeholders at a seminar that the primary consumption of livestock products may need to be reduced because of the need to promote the use of hides and skin for leather production.

For Jacob Akwubilo, head of the Leather Products Sellers Association, Lagos Mainland, a ban on the product could make leather products cheaper.

Akwubilo urged the government to look into the availability of other sources for leather production, like snakes and fish skins to augment for the shortfall caused by the direct consumption of cow skin.

While a NEPC report says the export of leather products like bags, shoes, was 63 million dollars in 2014, government still lack statistics on the consumption of some items in the country according to Emmanuel Cobham, Director-General, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

He said there is need to get the statistics of the consumption of the product, in comparison with the current volume of leather production and exports in the country.

“The government should also consider the local market, because they are the highest stakeholders, as their survival depends on it. In an economy, decisions should not be taken on a one-sided note, but where the major economic policy or decision may affect or bite the more. However, there may be a need to simply discourage the consumption to a level, to earn some foreign exchange for the nation through more leather exports,’’ Cobham said

Director-General of Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Dominick Ajibo, noted that revival of the tannery and leather industries would go a long way to boost the foreign exchange earnings of the country.

Ajibo noted that it would create jobs for most youths presently roaming the streets and neighbourhoods aimlessly.

He also noted that the quality of leather they get from abroad is not as good as the quality of Nigerian –made leather which is not synthetic as the foreign products from China.

He, however, said that the federal government was reviewing the EEG granted these tanneries and expressed hope that from the review, the new policy will give them access to Nigerian leather.

“We expect that at the end of the review, the revised policy from the review will encourage the local marketing of locally made leather goods so that we can produce leather works like shoes, bags and belts that have good quality,’’ he said.

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