Car­pet Fu­tures

Afghanistan’s car­pet in­dus­try has good prospects for growth and global ex­ports.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sam­ina Wahid The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes reg­u­larly to var­i­ous lead­ing pub­li­ca­tions.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity be­lieves that Afghanistan's car­pet in­dus­try has a real growth and ex­port po­ten­tial.

Car­pet weav­ing is Afghanistan’s sec­ond largest in­dus­try af­ter agri­cul­ture. Out of a pop­u­la­tion of over 25 mil­lion, around one mil­lion Afghans are em­ployed in this sec­tor. This makes car­pets one of the most sig­nif­i­cant le­gal ex­ports from Afghanistan – the il­le­gal ones be­ing heroin and opium, whose smug­gling is the most lu­cra­tive eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in the coun­try.

Most car­pets in the coun­try are pro­duced by a huge net­work of weavers based in ru­ral ar­eas. A large part of the pro­duc­tion takes place in the north­ern prov­inces, but a size­able chunk also comes from the western prov­ince of Herat and the ar­eas sur­round­ing cap­i­tal Kabul.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, some 95 per­cent of the pro­duc­tion takes place in homes on free-stand­ing looms that are sup­plied by car­pet deal­ers who also pro­vide the wool and de­signs as they have a bet­ter idea of pop­u­lar trends in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

An in­ter­est­ing fact about the Afghan car­pet in­dus­try is that it is one of the few in­dus­tries in which women are mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion. The car­pet in­dus­try has en­abled a large num­ber of Afghan women to make a liv­ing. It proved par­tic­u­larly use­ful dur­ing the Tal­iban regime (1996-2001) when women were not al­lowed to work out­side their homes. Back then, car­pet weav­ing pro­vided many Afghani women a source of in­come.

The time re­quired for car­pet pro­duc­tion de­pends on the size, qual­ity, and ma­te­ri­als used. The process is te­dious and time-con­sum­ing and even skilled weavers take about a month to make a me­ter-long chobi

rang (a tra­di­tional rug), which can fetch up to $190 in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. Sim­i­larly, the weav­ing of a high-qual­ity 10 me­ters square car­pet takes a sin­gle fam­ily some ten months to weave.

Once the work is done, the dealer comes for in­spec­tion and pur­chases the car­pet if it meets his re­quire­ments. The money that a weaver gets de­pends on the type of car­pet. Costs can range any­where be­tween $50 for the small­est and sim­plest car­pet to $500 for a de­tailed, large and high-qual­ity rug.

Given the dif­fi­cult na­ture of the craft, it is not sur­pris­ing that it re­mains

al­most ex­clu­sive and unique to the Afghan com­mu­nity – a fact in which they take great pride. The com­mu­nity is also fiercely pro­tec­tive of its skills. “We don’t want to trans­fer it to other com­mu­ni­ties, it is our tra­di­tional skill and we only trans­fer this rare art to our chil­dren,” Shitab Ali, a se­nior weaver, is re­ported to have said in an in­ter­view. “It takes a life­time to ac­quire this skill and if we trans­fer this art to other com­mu­ni­ties, what will we do?” asked Ali.

Mean­while, there has been a shift in the Afghan car­pet weav­ing in­dus­try in the last 30 years, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to the cut­ting and wash­ing process – an es­sen­tial stage in car­pet pro­duc­tion. To­day, a lot of cut­ting and wash­ing takes place in Pe­shawar, Pak­istan. In fact, some re­ports in­di­cate that a good 80 per­cent of Afghani car­pets are fin­ished in Pak­istan af­ter which they are ex­ported with a ‘made in Pak­istan’ tag.

One of the rea­sons for this prac­tice is the lack of cut­ting and wash­ing fa­cil­i­ties in Afghanistan due to decades of war, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, lack of credit and land. In the ab­sence of a proper in­fra­struc­ture, car­pet deal­ers con­sider sell­ing the un­fin­ished prod­uct to Pak­istani whole­salers a vi­able op­tion since a long-term in­vest­ment in a fin­ish­ing fa­cil­ity is a risky propo­si­tion.

It is be­cause of this shift that Afghanistan’s car­pet man­u­fac­tur­ers and deal­ers are los­ing out on ma­jor prof­its. In fact, Afghani man­u­fac­tur­ers re­port­edly re­ceive a mere 10 per­cent of the profit that the Pak­istani ex­porters get. Those who still choose to fin­ish car­pets in Afghanistan find the busi­ness quite slow since in­ter­na­tional buy­ers are hes­i­tant to visit the coun­try. They would rather go to Pe­shawar and pur­chase rugs since this city is con­sid­ered to be com­par­a­tively safe than the cities of Afghanistan.

Car­pets are also shipped via air from Afghanistan to Dubai and then fur­ther on to other in­ter­na­tional mar­kets in Europe and North Amer­ica. How­ever, only a few Afghan deal­ers use this route since air trans­port is an ex­pen­sive op­tion, given the small size of the in­dus­try. Trans­port­ing car­pets by road in trucks to Pak­istan re­mains the most cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion for deal­ers – over 90 per­cent of the car­pets that make their way to the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets are sent to in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tions from Karachi.

Given the long and ar­du­ous pro­duc­tion process, Afghan car­pets come with a high price tag. This is the rea­son why the in­dus­try suf­fered a great deal dur­ing the global eco­nomic re­ces­sion. Stud­ies show that glob­ally, car­pet ex­ports were down by 44 per­cent soon af­ter var­i­ous economies were hit by re­ces­sion. Ex­port sales of Afghan car­pets were down to 11 per­cent in 2010 but ex­perts say that the fig­ure is slowly climb­ing up, now that the economies are re­cov­er­ing.

It is for this rea­son that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity con­sid­ers the car­pet in­dus­try to be an area of the Afghani econ­omy which has a real growth and ex­port po­ten­tial. The U.S. De­part­ments of In­te­rior and De­fense awarded a $1 mil­lion con­tract to a con­sult­ing firm in 2010 in a bid to im­prove the ex­ist­ing mar­ket for Afghan car­pets. Tre­mayne, a com­pany based in New Jersey, U.S.A., was re­spon­si­ble for iden­ti­fy­ing sup­pli­ers and com­mer­cially vi­able trans­port routes out of Afghanistan along with lur­ing buy­ers to a sales hub in Tur­key.

Even then, Afghanistan can­not de­pend on for­eign as­sis­tance for­ever and must find its own home-grown so­lu­tions to gen­er­ate rev­enues from car­pet sales to turn it into a sus­tain­able in­dus­try. There is too much at stake here; Afghanistan can­not af­ford to lose an in­dus­try for which there is a real global mar­ket.

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