Afghanistan is home to 73 million cashmere producing goats. In 2007 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that only 30% of the goats in Afghanistan were being harvested for fibre.
The Sustainable Agriculture program (ASAP) teamed up with Mr. Abdul Basir Hotak, at the time a 15-year veteran of the Afghan cashmere industry. Together, they installed the country's first scouring and de-hairing equipment, allowing Mr. Hotak to process and add value to the fiber in-country. ASAP provided herders with veterinary assistance to improve herd health as well as training in how to harvest the cashmere through combing rather than shearing. These two steps helped to dramatically improved the quality of the raw fiber. The higher quality fiber fetches a better price for the herders. As a result of ASAP and follow up work by key players, the Afghan cashmere industry has transformed itself into a global provider of luxury cashmere fiber.
While working as a consultant for USAID in 2011, Susan Inglis, the founder of From The Mountain yarn, was contracted by (ASAP) to work with Mr. Hotak to improve the cashmere supply chain in Afghanistan and to bring new economic opportunity to rural areas. Mr. Hotak had long seen the potential for developing Afghan cashmere, and he seized the opportunity to invest in building a supply of this premium fiber. He sourced a network of spinners in remote areas and is now managing a cottage industry that supports over 100 women.
Mr. Hotak and From The Mountain have taken this beautiful fiber a step further with beautiful hand spun yarn that supports livelihoods for Afghan women. After decades of conflict, many of these women have been left as heads of households. There are, however, very few jobs that are considered socially acceptable for women. Many of the women have spun yarn for their own home use and wool for the carpet industry. Spinning high-quality cashmere fiber into yarn for hand-knitters pays far better, providing a fair wage and an alternative to growing poppies for opium and heroin. The spinners are able to stay home with their children and provide for them at the same time.
Our partnership in promoting and distributing Cashmere from Afghanistan in Europe was made possible by the intervention of Dutch Design in Development.