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Leather industry & raw material

The leather industry relies on by-products of the meat and dairy industries for over 95% of its raw materials.
Consequently, raw material supplies reflected population growth throughout the 20th century.
The ratio of cattle populations (by far the primary source of leather raw material) and leather produced to the
size of human populations has remained remarkably steady for the last one hundred years.
The FAO report World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030, An FAO Perspective highlights the fact that the
proportion of animal products in the human diet has increased over the last three decades – at the expense
of cereals and other crops. This trend is likely to continue, but to slow down eventually.
Hide and skin supply is likely to continue to grow at slightly less than 3% per annum. The sourcing shift from
developed to developing countries has raised issues of land use, raw material quality, and farming efficiency.
Over the last decade, China has become the largest hide producer in the world, followed by India, Brazil and
the USA.
Current data on agriculture indicates that these trends will remain stable up to 2030, but also high-
lights evidence of potential serious discontinuities, mostly related to land availability and other aspects
of livestock development. Cattle convert grain into protein inefficiently, therefore requiring large
pieces of land. Land for herd expansion is either not available, or it is quickly diminishing in many
parts of the world.
Farming efficiency and hide and skin off-take and collection, including the quality of flaying and preservation
techniques, could be improved in some regions, most notably in Africa. However, over many decades, the
extensive efforts to make such improvements have had limited success.
As countries develop and people grow more prosperous, the overall demand for meat and dairy products
grows, even though some declines in this demand have been seen in Europe and the USA. In Africa, the
Middle East and Asia, the growing demand for meat is increasingly being met by intensive industrial pig and
poultry farming.
Pigskin was considered the largest reservoir of future leather raw material, but its potential has diminished. The
entry of pigskin into the leather market depends on price, culture and technology. Not all pigs are skinned and
much of the pigskin is used for gelatine production. Making good leather out of pigskin involves considerable
technical challenges. Pigskin leather is estimated to account for 11% of the current world leather production,
China being by far the leading producer.
Overall, it is entirely unlikely that the basic raw material supply for tanneries will grow faster than the
rate seen in recent decades. Moreover, declines in both the volume and the quality of raw materials are likely.

It is expected that raw materials coming from animals such as buffalo, yak, camel, ostrich, deer and
kangaroo, which are available in limited or very small amounts, will become increasingly important.
Estimates put these raw materials at around 1% of total world supply, although a figure closer to 2%
may be more accurate.

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