Namibia Fur in High Places

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK As an indication of the high standard of sorting of Swakara in the country, Namibia has been invited to become part of the Copenhagen Fur quality labelling system, the Purple Club. Swakara is Namibia’s brand name for karakul pelts. Purple is the top most grade, which allows the top 100 exclusive range of boutiques worldwide to sell purple label garments. The purple label was launched last year in Copenhagen, Denmark and Namibia will only join as from April this year. Agra Cooperative announced in a press release yesterday that the label also includes Swakara in all advertising initiatives of Copenhagen Fur, a major trading role player in international fur trade dealing with other fur such as fox, mink and chinchilla. Not all suppliers of karakul pelts meet this grade and this label for Namibia means that the country supplies top quality by international standards. The Agra Pelt Centre is the only Swakara sorting centre worldwide, where pelts are collected and sorted according to hair, colour, length, curl development and quality before being sent to international pelt auctions annually. Neighbouring countries that include South Africa and Botswana, said Agra, send their pelts to Namibia for inclusion into the Swakara collection, on condition that minimum quality standards of the pelts are met. The pelt centre is the final collection, sorting and value addition station before the pelts are flown to the international markets in Copenhagen. Although most promotional efforts are currently aimed at Eastern Europe and the Far East, which are the biggest emerging buyers, fashion shows in Russia and Hong Kong are complementing the long established shows in Paris, Frankfurt and Milan. Swakara pelt, locally termed the “Black Diamond” is rated as top quality karakul fur worldwide, leaving other karakul producers behind. The statement issued by Agra’s Birgit Hoffmann, senior marketing manager said that the Namibian pelt industry has taken an upswing for the past six years as the sales have increased in both numbers and price because the fashion designers utilise the product increasingly, as well as international fashion houses selling the product. The prices of the pelts have increased from N$1.40 in 1930 to N$186 in 2000 and N$245 in 2005. Last year alone, the total income from 89 603 pelts amounted to over N$22 million. The first auction this year commences in April, with about 66 000 pelts on offer. Initial indications according to Agra are that this could be an under supply and expectations of good prices are high. Last Friday, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr Nickey Iyambo undertook a familiarisation tour of the Agra Pelt, the first time a minister has made a visit at the centre to meet with the industry role players. Agra’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter Kazmaier hailed the visit as a historical one, which he said highlighted the drive of the Government to work together with stakeholders in the industry to help promote Namibia internationally and play a meaningful role in increasing production of Namibian products. Hoffman said the minister highlighted the fact that karakul production lends itself ideally to farming in arid and semi arid regions of Namibia and due to its strong herding instinct, is ideal to be farmed by communal farmers. Currently, communal farmers contribute about 22 percent to pelt production although there is room for further development in that area. Agra in association with the Karakul Board and other organisations coordinates various projects aimed at increasing karakul production and quality of products in Namibia. Projects funded by the board include subsidising breeding stock for communal farmers in Aranos, Keetmanshoop and Mariental. Last year, in the three areas, 466 breeding stock were subsidised by the project. Agra says the project has developed over the years and communal farmers are now in a position to purchase stock during auctions on the open market, and can be subsidised on the transaction. Next year, the Agra Pelt centre will celebrate 100 years of the existence of the Karakul industry.

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