Drought, lack of investment hit lambskin trade
MAIMANA, 8 June 2009 (IRIN) - Drought, conflict and
lack of investment have caused a 20 percent fall in
the export of products made from a silky lambskin
known as karakul, and adversely affected the
livelihoods of thousands, according to the Export
Promotion Agency of Afghanistan (EPAA).
The lambskin comes from one of the few animals able
to survive the harsh winters of northern Afghanistan,
and the trade in the pelts - or the manufacture of
karakul hats, clothes and other products - has been an
important source of income.
“Karakul exports reached US$10 million in 2007 but
dropped to $8 million in 2008,” EPAA spokesman
Rohullah Ahmadzai told IRIN, largely because of the
2008 drought in northern Afghanistan when hundreds, if
not thousands, of karakul sheep died, according to aid
Afghanistan’s karakul exports generated $50-60
million annually in the 1970s but production and
exports shrank rapidly after the Soviet invasion in
1979 and subsequent civil wars, before picking up
somewhat after the fall of the Taliban in 2002.
Exports reached about $20 million in 2005, according
The Taliban reportedly banned karakul products on
ethical grounds, because they required the slaughter
of newborn lambs, and some animal rights organizations
oppose karakul products, deeming them “cruel”.
According to the International Fur Trade
Federation, the karakul lamb pelt is “distinctive for
its softness, its water-silk markings and lustrous,
wavy curls. Most pelts are black, due to a dominant
black gene… Older karakul sheep have a long, glossy
fleece that can be used to make rugs and blankets.”
“No one cares about our plight”
“There are no sheep, no pelts and no buyers…no one
cares about our plight,” Joma Gol, a karakul farmer in
the northern province of Faryab, told IRIN.
“We earn a living from the karakul but because of
the drought and lack of buyers business has virtually
finished,” said another farmer, Aminullah.
Farmers also complained about a significant
reduction in pelt prices over the past year. Thousands
of people in Faryab, Jowzjan, Balkh, Sar-e-Pol and
Takhar provinces earn a living through karakul pelts
“Estimates from 1996 indicated about five million
karakul sheep in the northern provinces, meaning about
one third of the sheep [were] owned by villagers...
The ability of the karakul to produce meat and wool
under very extreme climatic and ecological conditions
has obviously helped it to survive those years when,
due to war and lack of demand on the international
markets, pelt production was of lesser importance.
Problems with security and marketing of pelts may have
reduced the number of karakul sheep since then, but no
exact information is available, according to the UN
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“In the past, one pelt sold for about 5,000
Afghanis [$100] but now it is 500-1,000 Afghanis
[$10-20],” said a farmer.
The karakul market had also slumped because
products had failed to keep pace with changing
consumer tastes, the EPAA’s Ahmadzai said.
“The industry is in need of a capacity build-up,
modernization, investment and technical support,” said
Ahmadzai, adding that his agency was trying to attract
government support and private investment to
rehabilitate the trade.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.