Pashmina goat clone boost for
Kashmir's shawl makers By Athar
SRINAGAR - After scientists in
Kashmir successfully cloned the pashmina goat,
that produces the famous "cashmere" wool, hopes
are running high for the revival of the
traditional shawl-making industry in this Indian
Noori, a cloned pashmina goat, at
Srinagar's Sher-e-Kashmir University of
Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST), born
on March 9, is being seen as just the breakthrough
for which the ailing cashmere shawl industry has
"Noori is the first cloned
Pashmina goat in the world and she represents a
major breakthrough for us," said Professor Riaz
Ahmad Shah at SKUAST's center of animal
biotechnology and head of the World Bank-funded
cloning project. Shah and his
team at SKUAST used a
simple method involving little more than a
microscope and petri dish to produce Noori and the
method, now standardized, can readily be
replicated through the valley.
Inter Press Service (IPS) that cloning would not
only help increase the number of pashmina goats
but also "result in development of animals that
can produce finer wool than that from the
naturally existing Plasmin goat".
Shah, a Srinagar trader, says, "There is no match
anywhere in the world for the handspun,
tightly-woven pashmina shawl, although duplicates
are steadily being pushed into the market with
lower price tags."
A greater threat to the
cashmere wool industry is the dwindling herds of
the delicate pashmina goat, which must be
carefully reared in the cold and windy Himalayas
to stimulate growth of the fine wool on its
"Just imagine the kind of
impact that commercially multiplying pashmina
goats through cloning would have on the shawl
industry," says Gouhar Rather, a handicrafts
dealer in Srinagar. "It will certainly help
genuine pashmina makers."
At least 15,000
families are associated with the pashmina shawl
industry in Kashmir with the women closely
involved in the spinning of the wool while the men
lend a hand with plying the heavy handlooms.
Cashmere shawl sales bring in about US$85
million a year and, along with tourism, represents
a major source of income for the seven million
people of the Kashmir Valley.
"Manufacturers in Amritsar and Ludhiana
[major woollen goods centers in Punjab state] now
import wool from New Zealand and Australia, spin
it on machines and treat them with chemicals
before passing off second-rate products as
pashmina," says Rafiq Shah.
Shah, in the past, manufacturers in China and
other countries had tried to produce cashmere
shawls and failed. "It is not easy to spin
pashmina the way our women do."
of pashmina shawls, essentially a cottage
industry, has long been considered an ideal way
for Kashmir's Muslim women to be gainfully
employed without having to step out of their
But there are Kashmiri women like
Shameema Wani, 42, who have graduated to the
marketing of pashmina shawls. She provides work
for some 2,000 women, collecting their products
for sale at an outlet she set up in the heart of
Srinagar about 10 years ago.
"This is a
job that is suitable for women because it allows
them to attend to household chores and also earn
an income," Wani said while welcoming the
scientific developments that promise more raw
material for shawl-making.
developed at SKUAST can easily be extended to
other commercially valuable species in the
Himalayas, notably the chiru, or Tibetan
antelope which produces shahtoosh, a type
of wool that is even more highly prized than
The exceptionally fine fleece of
chiru, which insulates the animal against
the harsh climate of the Tibetan plateau and
Kashmir's Ladakh region, has traditionally been
woven into shahtoosh shawls, another fine
handloom product of the Kashmir Valley.
However, as at least four chirus
must be killed to make a single shawl the animal
has had to be placed on the protected list since
1975 by the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES).
shahtoosh shawls, once a part of bridal
trousseaus, fetched around $5,000 a piece until
the Indian government banned the trade in 1991.
The state government of Jammu and Kashmir, which
makes its own laws, delayed banning the trade
until 2000 to help artisans.
"We are now
experimenting with assisted reproduction of the
chiru and other commercially valuable
animal species such as the musk deer," Ahmad
Khursheed, wildlife management expert at SKUAST,
SKUAST already collaborates with
the Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered
Species in Hyderabad and the Smithsonian Institute
in Washington to conserve several of Kashmir's
endangered species, including the chiru.
Kashmir's traditional shawl makers,
particularly female artisans, suffered heavily
from the CITES ban on trade in chiru
products and there are fears that the art of
weaving shahtoosh shawls, a preserve of the
Kashmir Valley, may vanish altogether.
have undertaken conservation breeding of the
chiru and have developed a technique for
combing out its wool without killing the animal,"