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South African wool producers must meet the requirements for viability and sustainable practices to satisfy consumers. Wool certification, a controversial topic among producers, was a major focus of discussion at the ‘boerepraatjies’ event hosted on the farm Dwarsvlei during the Karoo Winter Wool Festival.
Naturally, the topics of sustainability and traceability were also chewed over, bringing into the conversation the advantages of well-planned livestock management practices on a wool farm.
The bank, the broker and the buyer
In the context of the dwindling number of commercial wool producers in the country, panel member Stefan Gerber from Gerber & Co. suggested that a percentage of turnover from the banks, brokers and buyers be utilised to finance sheep producers to get more sheep on their land. This will prevent running out of enough wool that must be sold to the wool buyers. Stefan also promotes wool as an investment in garments and advocates that more people should be wearing wool to promote it and restore the textile industry in South Africa.
On looking at pure traceability as the basis for funding, Nico Groenewald, head of agriculture at Standard Bank’s Business and Commercial Clients division, said that although traceability gives one a line of sight on where the product goes, it does not necessarily define ownership from a legal point of view. “Ownership can get tricky,” he said. “Although you may trace an animal, you may very well have entered into a buy-and-sell agreement with somebody else which could complicate ownership.” Nico encouraged producers to take a long-term view of the drivers behind the market to carry it over a longer period, and not to get blindsided by short-term market trends.
Answers to the ‘why’ of wool certification
There has been a measure of confusion over the past few years over the reasons for certification of South African-produced wool and mohair and how the process works. Among the questions being asked, is why there is more than one standard, i.e., the Sustainable Cape Wools Standard (SCWS), Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) and Responsible Mohair Standard (RMS), instead of just one standard to which all should comply.
There is currently no short answer to the concept of certification, but the panel managed to provide some clear answers which, in the summary to follow below, may be of help.
Certification can be traced back to Textile Exchange, a global non-profit action that has implemented the RWS and the RMS to improve the way animals, people and land are taken care of across the board. Both standards are voluntary and producers who are RWS and/or RMS-certified, receive at this point a premium for their wool and mohair.
Prior to qualifying for certification, the broker of a producer’s choice must carry out an audit on the farm to ensure that all the farming practices are viable and sustainable. If a producer makes use of more than one broker, for example producing mohair and wool, they will need two separate audits to become RWS- and RMS-certified. An audit must take place once a year at some cost for the producer (the respective brokers carry the bulk of it).
In terms of wool certification, Jacques Le Roux said the following. “If you have an RWS audit performed at one time by your broker, it will also count if the shearing addendum of the Sustainable Cape Wools Standard can be recognised as well – giving you both an RWS certificate and an SCWS certificate.” He continued to say that the important thing to remember, is that an audit and RWS certificate from one broker, cannot be transferred to another broker. “If you move from one broker to another, it will mean that you must do the audit all over again. These rules are not made by the brokers, but Textile Exchange who is the owner of the RWS-audit standard and determine the rules which are subjected to international accreditation standards for the product.”
Some good news for producers is that Textile Exchange is working on a uniform audit standard for natural fibres which will include mohair, wool, alpaca fleece, etc. This means that wool and mohair producers will in the future have to comply with only one standard which will hopefully include the Sustainable Cape Wools Standard.
More positive spin-offs
Cape Wools vice-chairperson and owner of Standard Wool, Paul Lynch, indicated that the certification of wool will be crucial within the next few years. “Producers who do not comply with these standards, will not have a market for their products.” He encouraged wool producers to do everything they can to make sure that they have good farming practices in place with a good certification as a support which will guarantee that they have a market to sell their produce to.
Juan Venter, production advisor at the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA), encouraged wool producers to follow sustainable wool production methods that will ensure that their farming practices will be audited for sustainable production.
Sabrina Moolman is a carbon analyst and project designer at NatureBlocks, a software development company that helps businesses to reduce their carbon emissions and become carbon neutral. She encouraged producers to do research regarding their carbon credits and said: “Paying tax on the carbon footprint is already a reality in other countries and I really want to encourage producers in South Africa to find opportunities through measurement, reduction and offsets that will ensure a sustainable environment for future generations.”
Corné Nel of BKB encouraged producers in the wool industry to persevere despite difficult economic trends locally and internationally. “We believe in you as producers. You take care of your people and animals and the environment. If you were not committed to these sustainable methods, then you would have failed a long time ago.” – Carin Venter, AgriOrbit
For more information, contact Yolandi Erasmus on 073 476 5422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.