HOW THE BURBERRY FOUNDATION IS BUILDING A MORE INCLUSIVE AND SUSTAINABLE CASHMERE INDUSTRY IN AFGHANISTAN
A PRECIOUS MATERIAL
Cashmere is an ancient material which, although renowned for its softness, comes from harsh environments. Over the last decade, increased global demand for cashmere and repercussions from climate change pose challenges for the fragile ecosystems the cashmere industry relies on.
Afghanistan is the third largest producer of cashmere in the world, after China and Mongolia. Yet, increased demand for the material and a lack of understanding around the value, benefits and opportunities of cashmere has not led to an improvement in farmers’ livelihoods.
The reality faced by herders of cashmere goats is complex and challenging. In Afghanistan, climate change means herders have to contend with extreme weather, droughts and depleted grasslands. Difficult conditions and a lack of knowledge around sustainable cashmere farming and animal husbandry means the cashmere they produce is often low quality, which impacts the living they can make from it.
Under-development of the cashmere industry and supply chain in Afghanistan results in lower prices for the cashmere which leads to a low income for the herders and their families. The Burberry Foundation, in partnership with Oxfam and PUR Projet, is developing a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient cashmere industry in Afghanistan.
A short film produced by The Burberry Foundation, Oxfam, PUR Projet and Joël Van Houdt
The lack of a fair and established cashmere supply chain in Afghanistan means cashmere is sold at low prices. As a result, herders capture little value from the cashmere they produce.
Due to the way the cashmere supply chain is set up, cashmere herders aim for high volume at the expense of quality. This drives down the price at which they can sell their cashmere. In order to supply to the premium, more lucrative sector of the international market, herders need to improve the quality of their cashmere.
However, herders have limited understanding of the potential value of cashmere. As a result, they are less likely to invest their time and resources on producing the material.
“The Burberry Foundation’s five-year partnership in Afghanistan is pushing the very definition of a sustainability programme, working holistically to drive lasting social and environmental change. The positive impact of the programme on the whole industry, from herders’ livelihoods and gender equality through to land management and policy engagement, is testament to the power of collaboration in its ability to create tangible system change from the inside out. I am incredibly proud of our progress to date and the unparalleled dedication of Oxfam, PUR Projet and the Afghan herder communities as we work together to create a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable future.”
Pam Batty, Secretary to The Burberry Foundation and VP of Corporate Responsibility at Burberry
The Burberry Foundation, in partnership with Oxfam and PUR Projet, is developing a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient cashmere industry in Afghanistan.
The five-year programme is focused on helping herders enhance their livelihoods and creating a prosperous local supply chain to benefit the community in the long term.
Hand in hand with local communities, the programme is educating and empowering herders to realise the benefits of cashmere fibre.
We are working on the ground to change the system for the better and for the future. The programme is actively contributing towards UN Sustainable Development Goals 1, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 17, which include ending poverty in all its forms, ensuring inclusive and equitable education for all, achieving gender equality and promoting sustained and sustainable economic growth.
OUR WORK WITH THE SFA
From our iconic scarves and knitwear to our distinctive outerwear, cashmere has been at the heart of our product offering for the past 130 years. Each spring, this luxurious fibre is combed from the winter undercoat of goats that live in the vast plains of Central Asia. Warm, soft and lightweight, it takes the hair from one goat to make a single Burberry classic cashmere scarf. Climate change and increased global demand for cashmere pose challenges for the fragile ecosystems the cashmere industry relies on including the Mongolian Steppe, a major production centre of global cashmere supply, and Afghanistan, the third largest producer of cashmere in the world.
To address this, we are a founding partner of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA), a UK-based NGO working with key stakeholders in Mongolia to improve the impacts of cashmere production by restoring grasslands, promoting animal welfare and supporting a decent living for cashmere goat herders. During 2018, over 3,800 herding families producing approximately 170 tonnes of cashmere committed to the SFA’s Codes of Practice on Rangeland Stewardship and Animal Welfare. These programmes aim to stimulate positive change beyond our footprint and make sustainable materials more mainstream across the industry.
The Oxfam partnership with the Burberry Foundation and PUR Projet is helping us to empower vulnerable communities in Afghanistan who face a complex and challenging reality. We are working with herders to organize them in business-oriented associations, build strong market linkages with traders and lobby the government for long-term change in the cashmere industry. This change will help to build more sustainable futures for the communities, as well as promoting gender awareness to enable women through better knowledge and awareness to participate more fairly in the cashmere supply chain. We are already seeing positive results and receiving encouraging feedback from female and male cashmere herders that their knowledge on cashmere herding has improved, as well as animal health and livelihoods.
Mohammad Ali Roshan, Cashmere Project Manager, Oxfam in Afghanistan
Building a resilient cashmere supply chain means creating dialogue with everyone involved, from goat herders to governments. It also means addressing the vulnerability of some of the stakeholders. In the context of Afghanistan, this meant giving access to technical resources and inputs to goat herder communities. Most importantly, it meant creating the conditions for these communities to make informed decisions about their livelihoods. Ensuring they were aware of the agricultural and business opportunities associated with cashmere but also growing these economic opportunities by starting conversations with potential cashmere buyers to make sure herders are able to sell their cashmere.
Juliette Cody, Fashion & Luxury Sector Lead at PUR Projet
Farzena is a 28-year-old who is participating in our cashmere programme with her 11 cashmere goats. Her family of eight include her mother-in-law, husband and five children. Her eldest son is 13 years old. Her husband used to be the household’s only breadwinner, earning his income by agriculture and livestock.
Farzena is extremely happy with the support received through the cashmere programme, especially learning about the value of cashmere, fibre harvesting and market linkages.
According to Farzena, last year she sold her cashmere to agents at a low price (19 USD per kg), but this year, with support from the programme, her products were sold for a higher and fairer price (31 USD per kg).
She is now inspired and encouraged to save the extra money to buy additional cashmere goats. Both her husband and mother-in-law have started to involve Farzena in their household income planning and management. Farzena feels empowered as she is contributing to her family’s income generation and decision making.
Vets, who travel round on motorcycles, have received additional training through the programme. Supporting the herding communities, they have treated and vaccinated over 86,000 cashmere goats and 40,000 livestock.
Herders face a complex and challenging set of circumstances, but the programme is creating a prosperous local supply chain to benefit the community in the long term.
Training on sustainable pasture management and responsible farming techniques will help prevent overgrazing and desertification. This helps to create more resilient herder communities, better able to cope with climate change and extreme weather conditions, including flash flooding and droughts.
The programme contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 – Gender Equality. Women are empowered to participate in cashmere harvesting and to have a leadership position within the community owned producer groups. Currently 28% of the herders engaged in the community owned groups are women.
Community-owned groups for collective gathering and sales of cashmere are enabling herders to negotiate for better cashmere prices.
A “sub flock” of goats from the farm has been successfully distributed to villages in the region to help improve cashmere quality.
BUILDING A BETTER FUTURE
Afghanistan is a key sourcing country for the luxury fashion industry and we are working to futureproof this critical supply chain from the inside out, ensuring its communities are supported in the long term.
Committed to positively influencing the cashmere supply chain at every level, we have partnered with policy experts to develop a set of recommendations. These will be used to engage with the Afghan government as they work to create and adopt a policy framework for the cashmere industry.
Collaborating across the whole supply chain, the programme has started to establish stronger links within the global apparel industry. Communicating the work of the programme with other brands, cashmere sellers and spinners is not only helping to align the industry to a common goal, but also providing valuable insight for Afghan producers into the specific quality requirements of potential business partners. With this knowledge, the herders can produce more desirable, better quality cashmere that can be sold at better and fairer prices.