Afghan Cashmere Trade Faces Uncertain Future

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The Taliban’s rapid reassumption of power has thrown life into disarray for many vulnerable Afghans. Hundreds of thousands are desperate to leave the country, while those able to flee face an uphill battle and uncertain future wherever they land.

Though the safety of vulnerable individuals is still paramount, early indications show that the Afghan economy is already being plunged into deep disarray. One industry that’s poised to fall victim to the chaos is the country’s cashmere trade, reports Business of Fashion. By advising working women to stay home, the Taliban’s takeover threatens the ability for what Oxfam in Afghanistan estimates is 28% of the cashmere sector’s labor force to be able to get to work.

Afghanistan is the third-largest exporter of cashmere in the world.

Photo: Kim Jae-Hwan/Getty Images

“Women are often the ones working with livestock, doing the de-hairing” Oxfam advocacy manager Agnė Baltaduonytė told British Vogue in 2019, referencing the important task of separating valuable cashmere from coarse goat hair. “We’ve been trying to promote women in leadership positions and having female coordinators at the stop shops,” she added at the time.

The international focus on cashmere as an engine for Afghan economic prosperity—as evidenced by similar investments from USAID and the International Monetary Fund—speaks to the country’s still relatively untapped potential when it comes to cashmere production. Research from Jalalabad’s Nangarhar University estimates that the country produces 1,000 metric tons of cashmere to the tune of $18 billion in exports, placing it at a (distant) third to Mongolia and China in terms of yield. That’s despite the fact that no more than 30% of Afghanistan’s goats are used to source cashmere.

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International efforts, such as a relatively successful Burberry Foundation and Oxfam partnership, have tried to increase goat herders’ awareness of the value of cashmere, and their ability to capitalize on it. Mohammad Ali Roshan, manager of Oxfam’s cashmere program in Afghanistan, told British Vogue that the effort with Burberry Foundation helped organize sellers into collectives, allowing them to band together and transact with larger sellers directly rather than going through middlemen. As of 2019, those efforts had quite literally paid off for cashmere producers: Prices went from an average of $17 per kilogram in 2017 to $31 in 2019.

Though the two decades between Taliban rule saw some cashmere success stories in Afghanistan, the trade was certainly not immune to issues. The Pentagon spent roughly $6 million to kickstart the cashmere industry in 2013, airlifting nine blonde Tuscan goats to breed with Afghan goats and boost cashmere yield. According to the Washington Post, a majority of the goats got sick and died, and those tasked with managing the program gave up.

With external investments dwindling, it’s difficult to see how the cashmere market would not suffer under Taliban rule. Orders forbidding women from going to work and new obstacles to international trade could reverse recent industry gains and spell the end for some of the aforementioned cashmere programs.



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