Tajikistan's "mohair magic"
A project trained female spinners and knitters to produce high quality mohair yarn and knitwear for Western markets
Tajikistan is one of the world's poorest countries, with per capita annual income of US$1 300. Most of the population relies on subsistence farming and livestock production and on remittances from family members working in neighbouring Russia. In the dry and mountainous Asht region, in northern Tajikistan, many rural families earn income from Angora goats. There are around 250 000 Angora goats in northern Tajikistan, and the Asht region is one of the centres of their production.
Goats are raised primarily for their luxury fibre, mohair. Most mohair produced in Tajikistan is exported as raw fibre to the Russian Federation. In Asht region, about 20% of mohair produced is processed by women into cheap yarn and knitted products, such as socks and mittens, also destined for Russian markets. An estimated 30 to 40% of women in Asht are involved in producing and selling mohair yarn and knitwear.
In 2006, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) launched a project to improve the region's mohair production and processing. Research indicated that by producing luxury mohair yarn and knitwear for Western markets, a proficient mohair spinner could earn about $240 per month (or nearly $3 000 a year). At the same time, increased demand for top quality raw fibre for spinning would help boost the incomes of local Angora goat farmers who invest in improving Angora goat production.
Two key objectives, therefore, were developing production of a "fair trade" luxury yarn that could sell for $140 per kg on the US market, and setting up a breeding programme that would lead to long-term improvements in Angora goat production and fibre quality.
Strongly competitive. Activities include training Tajikistani spinners and knitters to produce high quality yarn and products. The project team worked with four groups of spinners – each composed of 15 women – to produce from local fibre a mohair yarn that competes strongly with Australian and Italian luxury kid mohair yarns sold in North America. The yarn sells for a wholesale price of $140 a kg (the same price as world quality Australian luxury mohair yarn).
Women are able to spin and knit in their own homes, whenever they have free time. That way, they earn income without compromising their traditional household and family obligations, and avoid potential conflicts with husbands and other family members. Sales of yarn and products not only provide much needed income for the women and their families, but increase women's status within their households and communities.
Meanwhile, project scientists are working with farmers in the Asht region to create four breeding nuclei to improve goat selection and breeding. The nuclei will produce superior breeding animals that can be used by farmers in the community to improve fibre quality and the overall performance of their flocks. Selection will focus on producing high quality, fine, kemp-free fibre for the women spinning groups.
Markets grow for luxury yarns
Surveys indicate that in the USA, 36% of the adult female population – that's 53 million women – know how to knit or crochet, an increase of 50% over the last 10 years. In addition, many women aged between 25 and 34 are starting to knit. Result: strong growth in imports of knitting yarns into the USA. Yarns like those produced by Tajikistan's spinners – made from natural fibres, and to "fair trade" standards – are in particularly high demand.
Samples of luxury yarns produced in Asht were test-marketed in a US yarn store in February and September 2009. The samples were marketed under the trademark "Mohair Magic", developed by the project and successfully sold for their established price of $140/kg. In December 2009, samples of yarn and mohair shawls from Asht were testmarketed at a fair trade show in Wisconsin, USA, with excellent results.
The project also helped develop linkages between women's producer groups in the Asht region and knitters and yarn stores in the USA to facilitate orders for yarns and help them ship the orders. This initial experiment will help the project develop "Magic Mohair Hubs" at the national and international level in collaboration with the Central Asian Crafts Support Association (CACSA, an NGO based in Kyrgyzstan) and other partners. Hubs will serve to collect yarns from spinners, conduct quality control and export the yarns and products to buyers in the USA and Europe.
The project's approach is being up-scaled through the IFAD/ICARDA grant of $1.5 million, approved in April 2009, aimed at improving the livelihoods of small farmers and rural women through value-added processing and export of cashmere, wool and mohair in Tajikistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Kyrgyzstan.
- More on mohair yarns spun in Tajikistan
- ICARDA's livestock project, Community Action in Integrated and Market Oriented Feed-Livestock Production in Central and South Asia Project
Contact us to get involved:
International Year of Natural Fibres
Trade and Markets Division
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00153 Rome, Italy
Fax: +39 06 57054495