Sichuan and our good friends

Over the last year China has frequently been the focus of these columns, and it was only six weeks ago that we were in Chengdu and Deyang. Both are in Sichuan Province at Chengdu is about 50km from the epicentre and Deyang, although a little further away was closer in to the area affected.

Both suffered considerable damage, but far less than the mountain towns that were more or less destroyed. All of those we work with in both towns are well and the buildings able to function, although at the University of Sichuan some of the old style dormitory block suffered and the students are still more than a week later sleeping outside as the aftershocks continue.

In Deyang Decision Chemicals has new single story buildings and from what we can in imagine and from what we have heard all is well. But unconfirmed news reports do say that 6000 people died in the town and 5 schools collapsed.

It is all such a contrast from the dynamic excitement which so has enthused Dr Wilkinson and I on our recent visits. We know how hard our colleagues have worked to achieve so much in the last decade or so, and how much the BSLT and the University as a whole, from the Vice Chancellor down have enjoyed working with them all. Hospitality, efficiency, clarity of vision and high level of intellect have so much characterised all the meetings that have been held in China and in Northampton. It is easy after such a devastating event for depression and lethargy to set in and for all to become demoralised. We know that things will not be the same and that some priorities may have to change. Yet we do remain even more determined than ever to play our part to make the planned outcomes successful and to try in all ways possible to help our friends there and those about them to quickly bounce back from this dreadful tragedy.

Mike Redwood

22nd May 2008

Tuesday 15 April, 2008

Sometimes you have to be forgiven for feeling smug. After Hong Kong we went with the Master of Leathersellers to Chengdu in Sichuan Province in China and interested the Master to the University there. He gave them beautifully bound copies of 50 years of the SLTC Journal. It was a real team effort as Philip Rothwell donated his Journals for this and Graham Lampard did the binding. The gift was really well received as it seems that the old copies has mostly been destroyed in the cultural revolution and since then collection had been haphazard so they had hardly any copies in their library.

The ceremony took place in a packed lecture theatre and Dr Wilkinson and I gave a short lecture on the future of the leather industry. One aspect we discussed was the future of raw material in particular the fact that we cannot expect the population of cattle to continue on at the same ratio to humanity that it did throughout the 20th century (around 0.28). We explained that the land available and the protein required was not sustainable and that we were already seeing a preference in many developing parts of the world to move to poultry and to pigs.

This is a comment that has been made a few times in the last thirty years, but now we do think it is true. To this end the article by George Monbiot in the Guardian on the 15th April really covers many of the points well. You can read it yourself at

“Beef cattle eat about 8kg of grain or meal for every kilogram of flesh they produce; a kilogram of chicken needs just 2kg of feed”

He talks about keeping cattle on pastoral land unsuited for growing food, but appears to reject that because of the methane they produce. I struggle with this one, but we anyway know that we are short of arable land as the world urbanises so fast. A long term decline in the proportion of leather made from cattle appears certain, and so we need to be thinking more about the camels, deer, elk and kangaroo. The issue here is that the industry needs to sit up now and deal with the ill founded pressure group arguments against leather from sources such as kangaroos.

Monbiot delights us on another point: we awarded an APLF award to a Thai tannery making leather from the Tilapia fish… and here what Monbiot says to wards the end of his article:

“I would like to encourage people to start eating tilapia instead of meat. This is a freshwater fish that can be raised entirely on vegetable matter and has the best conversion efficiency – about 1.6kg of feed for 1kg of meat – of any farmed animal. Until meat can be grown in flasks, this is about as close as we are likely to come to sustainable flesh-eating.”

Says it all.

Mike Redwood

15th April 2008