The National Wool Growers Association of South Africa is currently holding their 90th annual congress. In 2019, the congress will look at “sustainable wool.” The congress also allows for the industry to speak on challenges faced by farmers.

Like any other industry, wool farmers have been affected by the struggling economy. Commercial, communal and emerging farmers say apart from the drought; farming in general has been tough.

Commercial farmer, David Wardle, “Two years ago, financially, farmers were doing quite well because there was growth in our industry and our prices for our products rose dramatically. But everything just dropped in the past financial year; our incomes have dropped between thirty and 40% and even more in some cases and we find our products out there in the market haven’t come down in the same way.”

Emerging farmer, Siphiwo Makinana, says black emerging farmers are alleged to not be playing a good role in the country’s GDP.

“As black and emerging and communal farmers, we are alleged as not to be playing a good role in the GDP or growth of the country. It’s not because we don’t like to or we don’t have brains to play a role, but the playing level is not conducive. The blacks and emerging farmers need a development bank which will help us. You can’t be a commercial farmer without backup of a bank.”

The South African wool industry is said to be in a privileged position and has been identified as an industry with ample opportunity for growth. Frans Cronje from the SA Institute for Race Relations says the industry creates employment for the poor.

“Well this is a very important industry for the country; it creates employment for some of the poorest and most desolate people of the country and its contribution is a valuable export product in a country that runs up trade deficits. It’s an industry with vast potential and huge capacity for growth, but faces a series of obstacles; one of those is the uncertainty of government policy, second is predation and predators, third is stock theft.”

Wool prices are doing well. Buyers believe this trend will continue due to international market demand exceeding supply. A foot and mouth disease outbreak earlier in 2019 also affected exports. Chairperson of the Wool Growers SA, Guillau du Toit, says that the ban from China is troublesome for the industry.

“The ban from China at this stage is really trouble for the whole industry; for the farmers, it’s about short wool. So we struggle at this stage because China is the biggest market for short wool, so most of that wool is bought by buyers with financial consequences for them because they only being paid when they ship the wool and they can’t ship at this stage. So what happens is they buy and can’t ship and then they out of the next auction.”

The two day congress will seek to address issues facing farmers, creating partnerships with emerging commercial farmers and growing the industry.