Nothing sheepish about growing SA’s wool industry

(Port Elizabeth) – A major revenue stream for the Eastern Cape is being celebrated this week in Port Elizabeth, in the form of Wool Week – the first such initiative supported by the Campaign for Wool and the South African wool industry to take place in the coastal city.

Fashionistas will show off their woolly designs, while insights into the industry will include a range of workshops, Merino shearing and sheep dog shepherding demonstrations, among others.

[scroll to the bottom of this article for a list of what Wool Week Port Elizabeth will entail]

But back in the Eastern Cape heartland, the leading producer of both wool and mohair in South Africa, the industry is a much more serious, far less glamorous affair. Here farmers – emerging and established – battle the elements to create a product which is susceptible not just to the elements, but also to the fickleness of emerging market currency fluctuations.


While both industries are linked closely and together account for about R3 billion of South Africa’s GDP (R2.7 billion, at an estimate by agricultural conglomerate BKB in 2015), they are in fact quite different.

For example: while South Africa accounts for roughly 60% of the global mohair production (described as a soft, resilient fabric coming from Angora goats), South Africa falls just shy of the world’s top 10 wool producers (a bulky, yet airy fabric produced from Merino sheep fleeces).

Global wool production – of which Australia leads with 25% of the wool clip, with South Africa at 11 with roughly 1% – is pegged at about 1.3 million tonnes per year. Mohair is more of a niche market, with a global output of roughly 5,000 tonnes annually, down from 25,000 tonnes in the 1990s.

Both the wool and mohair industries are trying to bolster sales where they can.

Last year Cape Wools CEO Louis de Beer said that “the opportunity is available to grow South Africa’s annual wool clip by 50% to 75 million kilograms and to capitalise on the favourable market opportunities that exist”.

Managing such a feat, he said, could create 28,000 job opportunities and at current price levels contribute to a further R1.5 billion per annum to South Africa’s GDP.

Merino ooie en lammers Danie

“The good quality of South African wool is recognised internationally with product differentiation based on South Africa’s high classing standards, ethical management practices and South Africa’s unique growing conditions,” said De Beer.

Similarly to the mohair industry, the wool industry is calling for heavy government investment to create jobs in the Karoo heartland.

“All spheres of government will have to participate to ensure the success of the wool industry over the next few years,” De Beer said.

This ranged from the patrolling of South Africa’s borders and mending fences to protect the industry from diseases coming in from neighbouring countries. Other areas of possible government intervention included investing in production advisory and extension services; agricultural education institutions and training; and international trade relations and inspection services.

The wool industry remained relevant as ever, argued De Beer.

“From 1850 to 1900 the USA prescribed wool sheep farming as a prerequisite for its successful westward expansion programme. The wool industry sees no reason whatsoever why South Africa should not pursue this solution,” he said.

“Why should South Africans not again use the age old commercial remedy of wool sheep farming to grow its rural economy? Wouldn’t we all like to see large shepherded flocks across the communal areas of South Africa with thriving rural communities?” – By Brian Hayward


(Portions of this article originally appeared in Finweek Magazine in April 2015, written by Brian Hayward.)


What Wool Week Port Elizabeth will entail:

  • The Wool Week Static Expo between 30 March – 2 April  showcasing fashion and décor

  • The Wool Hub which showcases arts, crafts and design at the DF Malherbe Sports field (access gain be gained from Walmer Park Shopping Centre car park) 09:00 – 17:00

  • Daily sheepdog shepherding demonstrations which will take place at the Wool Hub between 11:00 – 12:00 and 15:00 – 16:00 from 30 March until 1 April 2016

  • Daily merino sheep shearing demonstration which will take place daily between 12:00 – 13:00 and 16:00 – 17:00 from 30 March until 2 April (please note that there will only be 1 demonstration on Saturday from 12:00 – 13:00)

  • Daily workshops in the Wool Hub which range from Wool felting to looming a beanie.

For further information on Wool Week Port Elizabeth 2016, contact Cape Wools