Dr. China Transforming the Leather Industry With Eco-Innovation in Tanzania

In the heart of Tanzania’s industrial revolution, a rising star is making waves – Dr. Cecilia Rolence China. A multi-faceted pioneer – researcher, inventor, and lecturer – Dr. China is transforming the country’s leather industry with her eco-friendly and innovative solutions. Honoured as a top 15 contender in AGRA’s Women Agripreneurs of the Year Awards (WAYA) 2023 for Female Ag Tech Innovator, her trailblazing work is gaining deserved recognition.

Dr. China is the visionary CEO of AfriTech Organic Leather, a social enterprise she founded in 2019. The enterprise is not merely a manufacturer of sustainable leather. Instead, it acts as a transformative catalyst, empowering local SMEs in the leather value chain with the knowledge, tools, and financial support to create sustainable leather and leather products themselves. With her guidance, over 100 SMEs have become champions of environmentally sound and socially responsible industry.

Innovation in Sustainability
AfriTech’s commitment to innovation is embodied in its eco-friendly leather chemicals and tanning solutions. These groundbreaking products, adopted by Tanzanian SMEs and neighbouring countries, demonstrate the scalability and transformative potential of Dr. China’s technology.

The KIWANGO Leather Cluster Challenge
During her field visits to Tanzanian leather industries in 2017, Dr. China identified many technical obstacles facing the KIWANGO Leather Cluster. Comprising 15 registered small-scale leather processors and product makers in Usangi, Mwanga district, Kilimanjaro region, the cluster’s main difficulties were:

Access to low-cost, eco-friendly chemicals for leather processing; Lack of essential equipment.
Limited technical knowledge and expertise. These challenges struck a chord with Dr. China, sparking a mission that would translate into years of relentless dedication and effort.

A Holistic Solution for Sustainable Growth
Dr. China’s passion for innovation and technical prowess drove her towards creating an integrated solution. Her vision was clear: to develop an effective, eco-friendly, and affordable technology for processing leather, leveraging locally available agro-inputs. The journey culminated in 2020 with a simple-to-use system that addressed the cluster’s needs, providing more than just a technological advancement – it was an answer to an industry-wide problem.

Piloting and Transferring Technology
With support from SIDA through COSTECH, Dr. China prototyped the technology in 2021. By 2022, she had successfully piloted and transferred it to the 15 leather firms within the KIWANGO Leather Cluster and to several young students in Usangi Village.

The outcomes of the project were profound, leading to reduced leather processing time, the emergence of new knowledge and recipes, the birth of new processors, significant reduction in environmental pollution, increased employment opportunities, provision of essential processing equipment such as drums, chemical extractors, milling machines, and fridges, fostering new collaborations with research and academic institutions, reduction in work tediousness, and marked improvement in the quality of leather products.

Eco-Friendly Revolution
Cecilia’s innovative approach to leather processing is about more than efficiency and quality. It’s about respect for the environment and commitment to a sustainable future. Her patented technology uses locally available raw materials, minimizing waste and harmful emissions – a long-standing concern in the leather industry. Her invention, which won the top award in the 2020 MAKISATU national innovation competitions, sets a precedent for other industries to follow.

Empowering the Community
Beyond her technological innovations, Cecilia has been an active participant in various leather sector development initiatives in Tanzania. Her dedication to uplifting local industries and small businesses shines through the Afri-Tech Organic Leather Initiative. The initiative aims to foster the use of eco-friendly leather processing technologies and promote sustainable practices, providing a model for the rest of Africa.

Educator and Mentor
As a lecturer at the School of Materials, Energy, Water, and Environmental Sciences (MEWES), Cecilia continues to educate the next generation. Her courses on Materials Characterization and Leather Technology are shaping young minds, equipping them with the skills needed to continue her work. Her passion for education extends beyond the university walls. Cecilia voluntarily mentors young girls in primary and secondary schools, encouraging them to pursue STEM subjects and apply science to solve real-life problems.

Awards and Recognition
Cecilia’s work has not gone unnoticed. From the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2021 to being recognized as an upcoming woman scientist in 2019, her accolades are a testament to her dedication and innovation.

Current Projects and Future Aspirations
With ongoing projects such as strategic approaches to strengthen the Textile and Leather Sector in Tanzania and the adoption of eco-friendly tanning technology, Cecilia is continuously working to elevate the industry. Her aspiration to transform Tanzania’s leather, sisal, and textile industry through technology transfer mechanisms is a dream and a feasible goal, guided by her relentless pursuit of excellence and sustainability.

A Pioneer and Visionary
Dr. Cecilia Rolence China’s contributions to the leather industry and Tanzanian society reflect a vision that goes beyond personal success. Her innovative mindset, community engagement, and dedication to sustainability mark her as a pioneering force in industrial development. Her story is an inspiration and a call to action – a call to innovate responsibly, educate passionately, and build a future that respects both the environment and human potential.