University of Free State catalysing quality and increasing profitability of the wool value chain among small-scale farmers in the Free State

The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension submitted a proposal, “Building Competitiveness for communal farmers through developing the wool value chain in the Free State Province of South Africa”, as a bid for a project to The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture. The proposal was selected and the grant was awarded to the Centre.  Subsequently Dr Jan W Swanepoel, the principal investigator, attended a capacity-building workshop for implementation of the project, held at the RUFORUM Secretariat in Kampala.

Project students
Dr. Jan Swanepoel with all die Ruforum project students. From left to right: Andries Strauss (Phd), Ketshepileone Shiela Matlhoko (Msc), Banga Madyibi (Msc), Alina Dimakatso Ntsiapane (Phd), Michelle Marais (Msc) and Dr. Swanepoel.

Small-scale farmers and woolgrowers surrounding Bloemfontein was identified and approached to be part of this project. Community women was also asked to join in, as the wool value chain does not stop at the shearing of the sheep. Since the project is multi-disciplinary, Dr. Swanepoel included the Departments of Consumer Science, the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Science, The Department of Agriculture Economics and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture to identify students to form part of the project in different levels of the value chain. Other stakeholders like Glen Agricultural College and private sector role players were also approached.

Local farmers and community women of Ladybrand listening to Andries.

The students include two PhD and three Masters students. Michelle Marais’ Masters study is focusing on value adding and market access of communal wool growers by developing a niche identity or brand for products. Bonga Madyibi on the developing genetic enhancement solutions of sheep for optimal wool production in a communal farming setup. Tshepi Matlhoko is developing easy and cost effective wool processing techniques for community men and women. These are all students doing research to complete their master’s degrees.

Andries Strauss explaining wool contamination

The two Phd students are Alina Ntsiapane who is designing effective wool farm management principles for communal farmers and Andries Strauss, his topic is building competitiveness for communal wool growers by developing the wool value chain in the Free State Province of South Africa

Andries explaining and demonstrating wool classing.

With the grant received, the first order of business was to upgrade and improve the shearing shed on the Paradys Experimental farm by the University. A Barrier was built between the shearing department and the weaving and spinning department.  The cages where the sheep are kept before shearing were upgraded, and the spinning and weaving area were made dustproof. Spinning wheels and weaving looms were collected from all over South Africa. Mrs Lotte Venter, a wool value chain facilitator was happy to be part of this project with Thabo Madini a local expert in the spinning of wool.

Sheep Handling
Local farmers practicing sheep handling.

On the 7th, 27th of February and on the 6th of March wool sheep information days were held at Glen Agricultural College, Thaba Nchu and Ladybrand respectively for farmers and interns from the community. Basic sheep handling was discussed as well as the negative economic impact of wool contamination and how it can be prevented.  Basic information on wool classing, bailing and marketing was also discussed.   The topics were presented by Dr JW Swanepoel (UFS), Andries Strauss (DARD), Shane van Rooi (DARD) and Jan-Louis Venter from the National Wool Growers Association.

Professor Kay Leresche, representative from Ruforum visited for inspection from the 9th – 11 of March. The visit was combined with shearing and wool classing training, as wool value chain technology transfer. Farmers and women from the community attended training on the 10 and 11th of March.

Prof Kay making notes sitting next to Lotte Venter the Wool-value-chain facilitator.

Unfortunately national lockdown started on the 27th of March as a result of the Novel Corona Virus. All activities were cancelled including the launch of the new upgraded woolshed, because of national lockdown. All national and international wool trading was also stopped. On the 22nd of April permission was granted by the government to do an electronic auction of only the wool that had already been tested and awaiting containerization within the brokers stores. After lockdown eased, trading could continue under strict regulation since the 1st of May. At the moment it is still unclear as to when the students will return to campus. The planning of workshops can be done as soon as there is more clarity on the regulations of COVID19 regarding people gatherings.  Concurrent planning of events and capacity building workshops will then happen.

Below are Shearing cages

cage 1Cage 2

This project is designed to incorporate research and dissemination components. The research component will include the evaluation, testing and further development of certain technologies and social and economic situations. The transformation of communal wool growers’ production from an underachieving enterprise to a profitable, sustainable, and renewable venture to enhance the livelihoods of communal wool producers.

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