Silk Company Poised for Growth

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The Kalahari Wild Silk Company, Namibia’s manufacturer of wild silk is looking into increasing production this year to be able to meet the expected international demand for products. The company was initiated as a project five years ago, as a result of a call from farmers in the southeast to eradicate a species of moth that was responsible for livestock and wildlife mortalities. With 50 percent shareholding of women around Leo-nardville, the project has been operational as a private company since July 2005. It operated as a project under the CRIAA SADC with funding from Oxfam and the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry until end March 2005. Its manager, Ian Cumming told New Era last week the company was now looking for operational funding to be able to put markets in place. While the company, which employs 19 women and one man on a full-time basis and between 150 and 300 cocoon harvesters on a part-time basis, needed to diversify, which would result in the employment and training of more staff, all depends on capital. So far, the company, which manufactures silk scarves, shawls, duvets and cushions among others, has markets both locally and internationally with designer galleries and lodges, which are expanding all the time, according to Cumming. He added that markets are also being sought in Europe and United States of America, the world’s largest silk consumer. “But to do this we need money,” he added. The cocoons of the moth Gonometa postica are outbreak species, over which no one has control. As of now though, the company has 6.5 tonnes in stock. “I can easily buy 10 tonnes but it all depends on money,” he added. Close to the end of the project, which started in September 2001, the Wild Silk Steering Committee decided to com-mercialise the project, which was followed by advertisements to call for expressions of interest. No offers were forthcoming however until the funding came to an end, said Cumming. The Agronomic Board in its annual report also indicated that a negative response was received but a certain weaving company afterwards expressed interest in forming partnership on an equal benefit-sharing basis and would be involved in marketing. The cocoon is found in the Kalahari at among other areas, Gochas, Sossusvlei, Aranos and Stampriet. When fed on by livestock and wildlife, due to a mineral, protein deficiency or out of pure hunger or confusing the cocoon with seedpods of the camelthon tree, the cocoons in the stomach break down as a result of the gastric acids dissolving the glue that holds the cocoon together. Due to this, the animal is unable to digest not only the silk but also any other food that it eats. By harvesting the cocoons, the pest is controlled and by processing the cocoons into wild silk and fabric, a former pest is turned into an economic opportunity. The project has thus created jobs, alleviated livestock and wildlife losses, utilised an unexploited natural resource and also improved rural livelihoods. The general features of the wild silk industry include the collection of cocoons, degumming the cocoons, processing the silk and spinning into yarn, weaving the silk into various high quality products for niche markets and development of new products.