Black Diamond Again in Demand

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The future of the karakul industry looks bright considering the trends in fashion in countries that are the biggest buyers of the skins. The industry, which is celebrating 100 years of existence this year since the first consignment of ewes and rams was imported into Namibia in September 1907, has seen renewed interest from overseas markets after a decline in production and sales over the past year. Since 2006 – when Swakara, the acronym for South West Africa Karakul, saw renewed interest in the industry when Namibia’s ‘black diamond’ qualified for the topmost label the Purple Club – prices of skins have increased to over 170 percent. The recent auction in Copenhagen mid this month reached record prices of N$1 250.62 for the top lot. “The present highly competitive globalised fur industry set new quality standards for products, and demands a new marketing strategy,” said Chairperson of the Karakul Board of Namibia, Kobus van Wyk, on Tuesday at the launch of a commemorative DVD marking 100 years of the karakul in Namibia. Apart from the 100 years of karakul in Namibia, this year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Swakara trademark, the 88th year anniversary of the Karakul Breeders Association, the 25th anniversary of the Karakul Board of Namibia and the 27th anniversary of Agra, which is the sole marketing agent of karakul pelts. This year also marks the 18th anniversary of the Agra pelt-sorting centre in Windhoek, the 10th anniversary of the Karakul Producers Forum and the 12th anniversary of cooperation with Copenhagen Fur. To mark these events, the Karakul Board has planned a series of events for this year, which include a big celebration planned for Keetmanshoop in September. Swakara has no competition because of the high quality of its furs. Although Afghanistan and Uzbekhistan are also producers of karakul, the quality of their skins is said to be low. Prices have started building up after they declined over the years due to a number of factors such as overproduction of skins, increases in the prices of mutton, the low quality of skins and the collapse of fur prices. Between the 1960s and 1970s, Namibia and South Africa together were producing five million skins, which dropped to a point where production went down to an all time low of close to 60 000 in 1997. Namibia at present has between 700 and 800 karakul producers. At the recent auction this month, Namibia had close to 60 000 skins on offer and expectations are that this year will see between 120 000 and 130 000 skins being offered. Namibia’s karakul industry was last year declared a strategic industry. Cabinet said when it made the decision that although the industry is not of significance in numbers on the international market, the local product is highly regarded because of its uniqueness and quality. Also, as an indication of the high standard of sorting of Swakara in the country, Namibia is now part of the Copenhagen Fur quality labeling system, the Purple Club, which comprises the topmost grades. The other grades include Platinum, Burgundy and Ivory. The first karakul consignment of 10 ewes and two rams from central Asia via Germany arrived in then South West Africa on September 1907. From that date until May 1914, the Department of Colonies in Germany was responsible for the import of 100 rams, 580 ewes and 140 lambs to Namibia. However, in 1911, a ban was placed on these imports because of fears of the creation of another production area by Russia, which was lifted in 1913. The last transactions were done from 1937, with the last four rams being imported in 1950. A documentary documents the history of karakul in Namibia, its advanced record keeping, breeding practices that formed the backbone of the Black Diamond industry in Namibia since 1907, said Christine Hugo, of INTV Productions.