Swakara carpets need investment and workers

23 August 2019
Author   Leonore Tjikune
The Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and SME Development (MITSD) and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) hosted the first-ever viewing and networking experience for the Swakara carpet industry in Namibia last week on 16-17 August at the Franco Namibia Cultural Centre (FNCC), in Windhoek.   The naturally Namibian industry struggles to retain skilled workers and attract the investment needed for expansion. 
The manufacturers exhibiting their artistic wares were:  Swakopmund-based Karakulia Weavers; African Kirikara Art & Craft at Kiripoti, Obib Community Trust at Rosh Pinah, (supported by the Scorpion Zinc mine); and Gun-gus at Beenbreek.
The various decorative karakul wool carpets on display, while different in style, each had a chic and modern look, with a Namibian touch. These unique and beautifully made carpets are professionally weaved to render depictions of local culture, wildlife or people.  Traditional dyes are used for the many colours of the wool used.  These alluring carpet-art pieces are used not only on the floor or furniture as room accents, but also as wall hangings. 
The well-organized event started off with presentations by the exhibitors, followed by refreshments and networking by industry players with those in attendance.
Even though local attendance at the event was limited, there were foreign visitors present who were passionate about the ‘art of wool weaving’.  
The event ended with a carpet charity auction (donated by the four exhibitors) for the Love thy Neighbor Foundation which raised almost N$12,000 for charity. 
While the Swakara carpet industry is small but well-established and shows promising growth, the manufacturers continue to experience barriers to continued development and expansion.
Carpet manufacturers stated that securing business finance was a problem. However, they all agreed that the largest challenge was finding skilled people to make the carpets. Though unemployment is high in the areas where the Swakara wool carpet industry thrives, attracting new workers with the commitment and capacity to start on the path of mastering this craft is proving difficult. Reasons for this can include the lower wages earned by carpet artisans, the long period of time needed to learn the equipment and master the weaving patterns and the lack of local visibility of the industry.
Moses Helao, proud owner and director of Karakulia Namibia (www.karakulia.com.na), which produces a range of handmade wall hangings and employs 30 people said, “Securing funding was my biggest challenge. The bank looked down on the idea, but attracting and keeping staff who master the patterns and skills is a problem.”
A representative of African Kirikara Art & Craft at Kiripotib, a sheep, cattle and tourist farm (www.kirikara.com), with many years of experience in the carpet weaving industry agreed with his colleague, Helao and added, “The weaving skill was the hardest part of starting the business - finding people that want to weave and have the skills, and then finding people that can transfer that knowledge to more weavers is a challenge.
“When my mother started the business years ago, the people that could weave were quite old, so you obviously wanted to get youngsters involved.”
A representative of the Obib Handwoven carpets Community Development Programme supported by the Scorpian Zinc mine in Rosh Pinah, shared the same sentiment. “We have only four employees; getting individuals interested in the business for training, and from there on keeping them interested to continue after training, is a huge challenge.” 
“Since Obib is focused on women empowerment, the ladies we were able to train previously don’t continue in the weaving business. The idea is to train those who are willing and have the capacity, and for them to create their own sustainable projects. There’s not much to do in the South, so we are introducing this niche market as a career opportunity, but people are not hungry for it.  It’s a huge pity,” says the Obib rep.
A representative from Güngüs, the only carpet manufacturer that utilizes its own first-stage wool-processing capabilities to cover part of its input needs, said, “We are still small and in development.  Keeping talented staff is a challenge. Luckily for us, we did not need to invest in equipment as we obtained weaving machines from the previous owners of this business.”
As one of the six value chains selected for development under the National Growth at Home Strategy, the Swakara wool carpet value chain is based on the fibre of adult sheep, which is a light-weight, high-volume, strong fibre, ideally long and lustrous with no crimp.
Although a micro-industry, the environmentally friendly Swakara industry is reported to employ close to 20,000 Namibians in primary and downstream industries.
According to a document distributed at the event, more than 90 percent of Swakara farmers are situated in the //Kharas and Hardap regions. There are approximately 300 Swakara sheep producers.

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