Second of February, Le Royal Meridien Hotel – Chennai

If you are on your way to Chennai for the IILF this week then check the ICLT Corium Facebook page for updates of the Corium reunion on the 2nd February at Le Royal Meridien Hotel.    Details are still being finalised so do check with Paul Evans via Facebook or at the University of Northampton stand CC-04-D at IILF.  Chennai has become an increasingly important and well attended fair and it has always been hard to fit a Corium event into its busy business and social calendar.  So if Paul can pull it off this will be our first Corium event in one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing leather markets, as well as one of the fastest rising consumer markets.

Cuban cows mostly have the "hump"
Cuban cows mostly have the "hump"

Across the world in Cuba

Across the world I was talking to a small farmer in the very west of Cuba this time last week. Vinales is really a tobacco area and farmers are expected to produce a certain quota of tobacco to sell to the state and only after that can they make for sale elsewhere.  As self employment and privatisation extend in Cuba this latter element of farmers activity is increasingly important.

This farmer kept a few cows, some sheep and goats. On top of that all farmers in the area also keep free range pigs and pork is a major meat on the dining table for locals and tourists alike.  Yet apart from the cattle hides all the skins are lost to the leather industry.  Pigskins are eaten and the goat and sheepskins are thrown away.  The cattle hides are used raw to make furniture and musical instruments.

A small-farmer enjoys one of his own cigars
A small-farmer enjoys one of his own cigars

This wastage is surprising as since Russia walked away from Cuba in 1990 and it was left without oil or money and trapped from any chance of manoeuvre by the US embargo.  This led to a huge amount of ingenuity, consuming less, making do and not throwing anything away.  Average income in Cuba remains today about one third of what it was in 1989, yet the people are amazingly happy in this low carbon economy from which we can learn a great deal. It is much more than the outcome of sun, rum and music.

The embargo laid down by the USA – and last week the Republican candidates in Florida were still seeking votes by telling elements of the Cuban American electorate how they would bring down the Castros – makes it hard to import chemicals and this may be why the skins are being thrown away in this area. It is not the case throughout Cuba as in other parts the populations of sheep and especially cattle are very high.  As far as we know the cattle hides feed into four tanneries where some are used for footwear but most are exported as wet blue.  The skins appear to be vegetable tanned for local use.  Throughout the country, however, there is a lot of use of raw hide for chair covers and other simple uses.

Sheep in Vinales
Sheep in Vinales

Three things stand out

  • Cuba right now is an excellent example of a low consumption, re use and low waste economy from which industry, medicine, agriculture and transportation worldwide has a lot to learn. Do it quickly before things change
  • Large areas of under-utilised grassland means that Cuba could, water management permitting, greatly increase its herd size and get closer to self sufficiency in meat and dairy products
  • In a world of scarce and declining resources no hides and skins should go to waste

Mike Redwood
28th January 2012

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