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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 13:30 GMT
Nigeria eats its shoe leather
Pomo sellers in market
The hides of cows, sheep and goats are eaten
By Sam Olukoya in Lagos

The leather industry in Nigeria is going through difficult times.

The skin of animals like cows, sheep and goats, which are needed for the production of goods like shoes, bags and belts, are being eaten at an alarming rate.

These pomo eaters, they have decided to walk on bare feet because they have decided to eat their own shoes in their pots

Dr Samuel Achi
People in the leather industry are calling on the government to ban the consumption.

But consumers are opposed to a ban.

These days when pastoral animals, especially cows, are slaughtered in Nigeria, their skins are rarely sent to the leather industry for use as raw materials.

Rather, the skin ends up in the market place, where women convert them to what in local parlance is called "pomo".

Hide to food

Pomo is cow skin, which has been processed for consumers to cook and eat like beef.

A lot of hardship will be inflicted on the common man if the consumption of animal skin is banned. [Its] consumption is due to poverty

Pomo eater Ashimiyu Gbadebo
At the Oko Oba market at the outskirts of Lagos, the largest beef market in Nigeria, many women like Agnes Ajala, process cow skin into pomo.

She says to do this, the skin is soaked in hot water and stirred for some minutes to make it tender.

The hair is then scraped off the skin before being boiled for a further ten minutes.

Unlike ordinary cow skin, pomo is tender and robust.

Outstripping beef

Over the years, large numbers of Nigerians have been discarding beef for pomo.

Pomo stall
Some say the trade threatens the leather industry
One pomo seller, Monsuru Kasali, attributes the trend to the rising cost of beef.

"Many people can no longer afford to buy beef because it is very expensive. They have now resorted to eating cow skin. If beef was cheap, nobody would eat cow skin."

Industry threat

At the workshop of the Federal College of Chemical and Leather Technology, in the northern city of Zaria, students are trained for a career in the leather industry.

Dr Samuel Achi is provost of the institution. He is concerned that those who eat animal skin pose a threat to the leather industry where his students are supposed to find jobs after their graduation.

"These pomo eaters, they have decided to walk on bare feet because they have decided to eat their own shoes in their pots," he says.

"Right now, a lot of the goat and sheep skins, which are the best materials for shoe making, will not be available to the tannery and definitely they will not be available to the foot wear manufacturer.

"Foreign exchange earning is a very big potential for the leather industry but the effort of the leather industry is definitely being frustrated by the continuous consumption of pomo."

Conflicting solutions

Everyone seems to agree that the consumption of cow skin or pomo is affecting the leather industry but opinions are sharply divided on whether or not the government should ban the consumption in order to save it.

Dr Achi wants a ban.

"I believe a ban will go a long way towards assisting the sub-sector but government is also conscious being a democratic government, and I believe it may take a long time but eventually, I believe it will come in to play.

"The need for the ban on the eating of pomo will actually be exercised within the national legislative system."

But Ashimiyu Gbadebo who eats pomo regularly says a ban on the consumption will inflict hardship on the poor people who eat it because they cannot afford the rising cost of beef.

"A lot of hardship will be inflicted on the common man if the consumption of animal skin is banned.

"I am pleading with the government not to throw we poor people in Nigeria into further hardship.

"The consumption of animal skin is due to poverty."

Taking a stand on whether or not to ban the consumption of animal skin is a difficult task for the government.

If it is banned, millions of Nigerians who cannot afford beef will have no alternative.

On the other hand, the continuous consumption of the product means the slow death of the leather industry, which has the potential to yield millions of dollars in revenue annually.

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14 Aug 00 | Africa
Nigeria: Land of no tomorrow
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