The Afghanistan/ USA Carpet Conference held in Dubai UAE on September 20-22, 2012 ended on a very upbeat note. Participants universally told Alex and me that the meetings more than met their expectations. Many mentioned that the event was a unique opportunity to better understand the dynamics of the Afghan carpet trade and that they were optimistic about the growth and development of Afghan rugs. Orders placed supported that potential. We went to the conference with a soft budget of $200,000 in actual sales and $400,000 in commitments to develop orders. As stated earlier, these numbers were greatly exceeded.
Much follow-up is needed to consolidate the good response to the conference and to see that the orders placed are filled and that these buyers buy again. One of the speakers at the conference said, “the relationship doesn’t begin until the second order is placed”, and that is true.
Immediately after the event in Dubai we followed the Afghan traders to their home turf of Mazar-e Sharif to assist them in processing orders and to gauge their true feelings about the steps taken so far in Sheep to Shop.
We determined that the availability of locally made wool yarn is critical to the success of the carpet trade. Near Mazar-e the USDA is developing a project to help accomplish this objective. The Agriculture Department will use money from the U.S. Army’s Commander’s Emergency Response Program to create a wool processing co-operative for the people of Dehdadi. The co-op will take in yarn or buy local wool and wash, spin and dye wool yarn for the area’s carpet weavers. Once the facility is completed, it will create jobs and income for hundreds of people who will market their product as “Sheep to Shop” yarn.
The team that went to Mazar-e Sharif drove to Dehdadi to visit their location and to meet with the Afghan men and women who will eventually own the co-op. Accompanying us was George Melton, of the UDSA, who has shepherded this project through the many levels of approval and implementation. It will operate under the supervision and with the cooperation of the Balkh Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL). Their representatives also went to Dehdadi that day. At the site we met Dr. Maleek Naieem and Malek Dowyghen; the directors of Relief and Development Organization for People (RDOP), the NGO that is implementing the project. The RDOP managers live with the people that will benefit by this development and have an uncommon passion to complete this project and to build more like it in other villages across northern Afghanistan.
It is mostly calm in the north of Afghanistan and over over week there we were able to have many important site visits to help spread the good news from the Dubai conference. But, our most important meeting was on Friday morning. To read about that, click here.