Owned and run by
Hilary Redden BSc. MPhil. Ph.D.

Project Work

The Fibre Lab in Central Asia


Fibre Lab Home

The Fibre Lab in Central Asia

Related Links

 

See related sites below for further details on the GL-CRSP Central Asia Wool project:

Kazak Project Home Page
GL-CRSP Wool Project

WOOL 2005 Annual Report

 

 


In 2004,2005 & 2006 The Fibre Lab was involved with the USAID funded Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (GL-CRSP) project Developing Institutions and Capacity for Sheep and Fiber Marketing in Central Asia (for further details see links on the left) in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

For Hilary Redden of The Fibre Lab this involved visiting towns and villages in South Kazakhstan and South and Central Kyrgyzstan. The practical work involved the running of workshops designed to train farmers about the potential value of the cashmere obtainable from local goats.

Farmers were given samples of different commercial cashmere types with a description of their different qualities and were able to compare these samples to fibre collected from their own goats.

It was explained that cashmere is collected all over Central Asia and processed in China, so that Chinese cashmere is likely to contain cashmere from their own animals.

It was apparent to the farmers that the commercial cashmere and the local cashmere was very similar.

  Comparing fleeces

It was hoped that using this knowledge farmers could instigate some easy changes to their fibre collection system and increase the value of their cashmere when they sold it on to middle men at the farm gate. For example, their cashmere was normally sold as one mixed lot, all qualities, all colours. It is easy however to sort fibre into white and coloured and sell these two lots at slightly different prices. This sorting could be done at farm, village or district level depending on the cooperation of the farmers.

Combing goats Examining fleeces
 

Normally, the middle men take the fibre away to the nearest large town and have the fibre sorted by hand there, adding value for the next step in the chain of processing. Sorting at the farm level gives the added value to the farmers, not the middle men.

Kazakhstan is a huge country, the size of Europe, and travelling to the workshop villages involved an overnight train journey and an 8 hour ride in the ex-army Russian equivalent of a minibus.

The country is spectacular; the train leaves from the largest city, Almaty, and travels beside a mountain range, gradually declining into the Steppe.

Go to iStockPhoto.com
View from the train in Kazakhstan
©iStockphoto.com/Gannet77

It’s hard to describe the Steppe; vast and imperturbable in the distance, full of flowers, birds and wildlife close up.

Go to iStockPhoto.com
A herd of goats on the Kazak steppe
©iStockphoto.com/Gannet77

South of Kazakhstan lies Kyrgyzstan, a country full of mountains as the final ranges of the Himalaya reach across it. Flying over Kyrgyzstan in a very ancient plane for those of us use to Western levels of health and safety is an adrenalin surge, for the locals it's business as usual. In the South lies the city of Osh, in the Fergana Valley, a region of rich flat farmland reminiscent of France and coveted by neighbouring countries.

In 2005 The Fibre Lab was also involved in a study trip with Kazak and Kyrgyz researchers and fibre processors to Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia to view their cashmere collection and processing system in operation.

Farmers and dealers can bring their cashmere to barter towns and chose the agent with the best price. Their fibre is then sorted by colour and depending on the skill of the grader, by fibre diameter before being sold on to cashmere processors in Ulaan Bataar or to Chinese traders.

In the major cashmere manufacturer ‘Goyo’ the cashmere is sorted into different qualities by skilled women and then processed into a range of cashmere goods for sale in Mongolia and the rest of the world.

The study tour also involved field visits to herders with flocks of a typical red breed of Mongolian cashmere goat. During one of these trips, the minibus became bogged down in mud in a river basin for four hours. Now, being stuck in Mongolia could easily become a very difficult situation, but this was a relatively well populated area with other four wheel drive vehicles about and we were relatively safe; in fact the break in our hectic schedule meant that the we could sit in the sun looking at the wild flowers while the men laboured mightily, ignoring all sensible suggestions from the women...

Eventually, with much huffing and puffing, the bus was freed and the group continued the trip to our host and a meal of boiled mutton (with no veg). So, it all worked out well in the end.