In sluggish Russian economy, halal sees growth

The halal economy, worth more than $2.1 trillion globally, is far from limited to meat, and in Russia it’s developing fast. (File/AP)
Updated 22 July 2019
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In sluggish Russian economy, halal sees growth

  • Ever more producers are catering for the domestic Muslim community, which accounts for around 15 percent of Russia’s population
  • The halal economy, worth more than $2.1 trillion globally, is far from limited to meat

SHCHYOLKOVO, Russia: The manager of a sausage factory near Moscow, Arslan Gizatullin says his halal business has been feeling the pinch — not so much from Russia’s sluggish economy but competitors vying for a piece of a growing Islamic market.

Ever more producers are catering to the domestic Muslim community, which accounts for around 15 percent of Russia’s population and is set to expand, and in some cases are also setting their sights on export.
“In the last few years in general, halal’s become something of a trend in Russia,” said Gizatullin, who has been at the Halal-Ash plant in the city of Shchyolkovo for seven years.
The factory was among the first of its kind when it opened two decades ago, recreating sausages in accordance with Islamic law, among other products.
“Now I go to shop displays and I see sausage from one, two, three producers ... I see that competition is growing,” he adds from the factory, which employs 35 people and puts out up to 1.5 tons of products a day.
The halal economy, worth more than $2.1 trillion globally, is far from limited to meat.
Cosmetics firms and services such as halal hotels have received licenses from the body that oversees Islamic production in Russia, while state-owned Sberbank is looking into creating an Islamic finance entity.
The Center for Halal Standardization and Certification, under the authority of the Russian Council of Muftis, has approved more than 200 companies since it opened in 2007.
The center says that number is growing by five to seven companies a year — from a standing start at the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Rushan Abbyasov, the deputy head of the Council of Muftis, told AFP the Russian Agriculture Ministry was supporting the center in its efforts to increase exports to the Arab world and Muslim-majority ex-Soviet republics.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Muslim community in Russia accounts for around 15 percent of the country’s population and is set to expand.

• Cosmetics firms and services such as halal hotels have received licenses from the body that oversees Islamic production in Russia.

• The halal food market accounted for around 7 billion rubles a year ($110 million) — or just over three percent of the region’s gross agricultural output.

“We’ve looked at international experience in the Arab world, in Malaysia, and we’ve developed our Russian (halal certification) standard following that model,” Abbyasov said in an interview at Moscow’s central mosque.
“We’re doing it in a way that matches international halal standards as well as the laws of the Russian Federation.”
The mufti pointed to an annual exhibition of halal goods and producers in the Muslim-majority Russian republic of Tatarstan, which this year saw its biggest ever turnout, as an example of the sector’s growth.
Tatar officials told Russian media the halal food market accounted for around 7 billion rubles a year ($110 million) — or just over 3 percent of the region’s gross agricultural output.
But they said the sector was growing at a rate of between 10 and 15 percent a year.
The certification center said Russia’s overall halal economy was also growing at a rate of 15 percent every year, but declined to give a breakdown of its figures.
Russia’s overall economy is stagnant, with the government predicting growth of only 1.3 percent this year, after 2.3 percent growth in 2018.
Alif, a Moscow-based cosmetics firm, is a new company at the forefront of the move toward exporting halal goods from Russia.
Manager Halima Hosman told AFP that, a year after launching, Alif’s products were being sold in the Muslim-majority Russian republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, as well as ex-Soviet Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
“Our priority targets for export now are France, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia,” she said, adding that the company had nonfinancial support from the halal certification center.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019
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Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste
  • While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”