Our Afghan Adventure
David Lee and David Mallin, co-owners of Cashmere Fibres International Ltd, based in Bradford in the UK have been involved in the purchase, processing and sales of Afghan cashmere for more than 30 years.
All Afghan cashmere business was handled by ex-pat brokers and we had no control over fibre quality or its preparation methods. Suppliers would regularly blend good quality fleece with low quality tannery cashmere harvested from dead animal skins. This practice made the material very difficult to process and greatly reduced its value. Also we had no influence over how much of the market price was actually paid to the Afghan herdsmen.
Late in 2008 David Lee received a telephone call from a director of ASAP (the Afghanistan Sustainable Agriculture Program), part of USAID. They asked if he was interested in travelling to Afghanistan to help organise and co-ordinate their cashmere awareness program and they would supply full security with armoured transport and secure accommodation.
During the following 2 years David Lee spent almost 6 months in Afghanistan arranging and delivering training to various organisations and authorities working in the cashmere supply chain. This involved participation in regional agricultural fairs attended by local farmers, seminars and practical demonstrations.
the trainees included:
- Kuchis (Afghan nomadic herdsmen);
- VFU’s (veterinary field units) of which there are more than 700 set up and run by the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan;
- Existing Cashmere Traders.
The training program covered:
- What is cashmere?
- Harvesting techniques and timing.
- Fibre sorting and preparation for:
- Cashmere quality, colour and contamination.
- Ways of improvement through good nutrition and breeding.
The training programs covered all areas of the country:
- Mazar and Kundus in the north.
- Herat, Farah and Ghor in the west.
- Kabul and Jalalabad in the east.
These photos of Saigerd show a primitive village 30 km outside of Mazar constructed of mud huts. Turning the clock back 2-300 years. Their animals are one of the main sources of income other than growing poppys and fighting for the Taliban.
The combined efforts of aid organisations and international industry taught us about variations in the breed, climate and difference in quality throughout the regions and have resulted in a significant increase in cashmere quality and quantity exported by Afghanistan – 1400 tons in 2014 compared to 1000 tons in 2008.
Without exception, David Lee and all involved in development of the Afghan cashmere industry realised that processing had to be introduced in the country to make further progress.
In 2011 CFI formed Cashmere Fibres Afghan Ltd (CFA) and signed an agreement with Traitex S.A. of Belgium, a specialist cashmere scourer, and the Afghan Ministry of Commerce & Industry (MOCI) to work together and establish international standards of cashmere processing in Afghanistan.
Another USAID project – ASMED (Afghan Small and Medium Enterprise Development) helped facilitate extensive research into government procedures and bureaucracy, suitable location and even sourcing of an ideal factory site with sophisticated effluent treatment facilities to negate any environmental impact.
They also helped to organise and carry out extensive factory refurbishment to create a modern. efficient processing environment.
The factory site is ideal for Traitex·s and CFA’s purpose and has a fascinating history. Originally built in the 1970’s by the Russians and paid for by a gift of US$10,000,000 to the Afghan people by Saddam Hussein, this was a fully vertical facility, producing woven cotton gauze for medical use.
Some of the machines in the factory still hadn’t been fully built but everything was shut down in the late 1980’s by the Taliban because the factory employed 800 Afghan women.
Over the next 2 years and after much investigation and due diligence Traitex opened a modern scouring and disinfection facility with enough capacity to treat the entire cashmere production of Afghanistan, beginning operation in 2013.
UKAID, through their Afghan business innovation fund (ABIF) helped CFI design and procure modern dehairing machinery which has been operating since mid 2014.
CFI have renovated the building and installed new equipment, to create a high western standard of health and safety, staff training and quality control, together with modern catering facilities, to ensure maximum staff welfare. USAID(ABADE), have been heavily involved in CFA’s
latest expansion and improvement plans completed during 2016.
The US Department of Defense “task force” have also been instrumental in helping the Afghan cashmere industry through the introduction of an elite breeding facility and fibre testing laboratory in Herat.
These two facilities have now been handed over to the local Noor Group, who are continuing essential work on breed and fibre improvement.
Due to the combined efforts of several countries and aid programs cashmere processing is now a reality in Afghanistan, creating jobs, added income and earning foreign currency for the country and a greater control over its important natural resource of cashmere.
The processing of dehaired cashmere also provides a platform for further investment and expansion into fibre spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving and eventually garment production, creating a vertical industry similar to that built up in China over the past 30 years, which will hopefully create many thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly, and earn many millions of US dollars in badly needed foreign currency.