October 21, 2022

SMEs in the SADC leather sector hail SIPS for training on Intellectual Property Rights

Representatives of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the leather industry from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region have commended the Support to the Industrialisation and Production Sectors (SIPS) programme for  convening  a regional capacity building training workshop on strengthening regional and national Intellectual Property Rights Policies and Regulations (IPRs) and Trade Related Intellectual Property Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) compliance.

SIPS, a programme aimed improving private sector participation in the regional leather, pharmaceutical and medical value chains in the SADC Region, convened the training workshop in partnership with the African Regional Intellectual Property Oganisation (ARIPO) in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 5th to 15th October 2022. The workshops  were conducted in hybrid format with virtual and physical participants from SADC Member States comprising of policy makers, and SMEs in the leather and anti-retroviral value chains.

SIPS is supported by the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to facilitate expansion of regional value chains and promote dialogue between the private and public sectors.

The training workshops educated high-level officials across SADC on the nature and policy implications of their IPR obligations and the way that these can be deployed in support of key sectors in SADC Member States. The workshops also raised awareness of IPRs among selected SMEs in SADC Member States in the leather and anti-retroviral value chains.

The module on the leather sector comprised formal presentations by experts in each area, led by  Professor Michael Blakeney of the University of Western Australia, who was the lead consultant, in partnership with experts from ARIPO. Topics covered included Industrial Designs and the Leather Sector; Introduction to Geographical Indications; Introduction to Patenting and the Leather Sector; Trademarks and the Leather Sector; A Guide to Patenting for Start-ups; and Leather Products and the Protection of traditional Cultural Expressions.

In one-on-one interviews the SMEs representatives from the leather industry who  attended the training described it as fruitful, informative, and an eye opener which will help to strengthen the value chains in the sector across the Region.

Mr Fungai Zvinondiramba, Secretary of the Bulawayo Leather Cluster and also a member of the Zimbabwe Leather Development Council, said such initiatives by SIPS would go a long way in developing the leather value chains in SADC.

He said the leather industry in Zimbabwe was being revised because there was a lot of capacitation in SMEs and big companies and also in training institutions with support from the EU through the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)’s Africa Leather and Leather Products Institute (ALLPI). COMESA ALLPI was established in 1990 and rebranded in 2017 to enable it to support activities towards strengthening the leather value chain across the continent in a seamless and cost-effective manner. 

Mr Zvinondiramba said through the SIPS and ALLPI initiatives, SMEs in the leather industry were being capacitated with machines through a clustering system in Harare and Bulawayo, as well as a leather design studio.  SIPS was targeting to create and capacitate 15 clusters in Zimbabwe and support these with the design studio.  He called for an investment in more training and machinery so as to strengthen the value chains in the sector.

Mr Robert Shabangu, the Chairperson of the Eswatini Leather Association, said he had benefitted a lot from the SIPS training workshop on IPR and that he would impart the knowledge learnt to the leather sector in Eswatini. He hailed the workshop for providing a platform for networking with people in the leather sector from other SADC Member States which had enabled him to meet friends from United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe through which they were going to collaborate and work together in establishing value chains in the industry.

The Director of Phanepha (Pty) Limited of Botswana, Mr Tlamelo Botlhole, said the workshop had enabled him to make friends in the SADC leather sector through which he was going to learn more about the industry.  Mr Botlhole said he recently started out in the leather sector and therefore lacked knowledge as there were no training institutions in leathercraft in his country.  He called for the creation of a platform to share information and training in the leather sector.

Leather clusters coordinator and lecturer in Tanzania, Dr Cecilia China, commended SADC and the SIPS initiative on leather value chains saying the workshop had gone a long way in equipping her with skills on how to manage intellectual properties in the leather industry. She said she would train others in Tanzania so as to guard against intellectual property rights thefts. Dr China called for the establishment of a leather laboratory in each of the 16 SADC Member States to train students so as to strengthen value chains in the industry.

Mr Thulani Ndlovu, a project officer with Solidaridad, said the training was an eye opener to most SMEs as there were a lot of things in IPR which they were not familiar with and which the SMEs needed to take note of to improve their products. Already, Solidaridad is implementing programmes to promote green innovative solutions in the leather sectors of Tanzania and Zimbabwe to create market linkages for leather products at domestic, regional and international levels through a grant supported by SIPS to the value of US$500,000.00. Mr Ndlovu said the objective of Solidaridad was to capacitate the SMEs and tanneries in Tanzania and Zimbabwe and establish a virtual studio to help in the design and capacitation of tanneries in both countries. 

Mr Masopja Moshoe from Lesotho said the SIPS workshop was very informative and  brought the “best of the best” in the knowledge of IPRs.

“We need to open our eyes to protect our designs and our brands so that we get value and can monetise them. Geographical Indications (GIs) is one of the things we never took care of to protect our products. I think this is what we need to go and work on, our policies and laws on GIs, and ask SADC to help us identify GIs to protect our industry,” said Mr Moshoe. A GI is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.  

Mrs Lopang Baig, Secretary of the Leather Association of Botswana, said she was pleased to attend the workshop and learnt the importance of IPRs. She said she would impart the knowledge learnt to her workers and fellow compatriots.  She, however, bemoaned the lack of skills in the leather sector in her country and called for the setting up of training institutions in the industry in Botswana.

Ms Rakkel Mwandi, Leather Coordinator at RS Leather of Namibia, said the training was very fruitful and that she would teach others back in her country of the importance of IPRs.

All the workshop participants were presented with attendance certificates at the end of the three days raining. The IPR training workshops  was supported under the SIPS programme funded by the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to facilitate expansion of the leather and ARV regional value chains. One of the objectives is to also promote dialogues between the private and public sectors.