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Low-Tech Solution Helps Afghan Wool Company Thrive

A switch to foot-treadle spinning wheels — simple devices that date back seven centuries — allows a wool spinning company in Kabul to increase productivity. As a result, the company is able to hire more spinners — mostly women — and improve their working conditions.
​Afghanistan is famous for its carpets, woven by hand in traditional and modern designs using locally produced wool. Reviving this industry has been a major focus of development initiatives. Until recently, though, little attention had been paid to the process of spinning the wool for the carpets — a job done mostly by disadvantaged women and children from poor families who in some parts of the country still use a piece of wood or a small stone to spin wool.
   
The Accelerating Sustainable Agriculture Program in Afghanistan worked to increase jobs and improve working conditions for spinners. The USAID program was designed to revitalize Afghanistan’s agriculture sector and improve the global competitiveness of the country’s agribusiness sector.
 
   Mohammad Nabi approached the program to see if it could help his Sadaqat Wool Spinning Company improve efficiency and output. Mr. Nabi started his company by employing 50 Afghan women who relied on the traditional method of spinning wool by hand. In the hope of easing the women’s workload while increasing their output, Mr. Nabi bought electric spinning wheels with motors. Since municipal power comes only a few hours every day, he ran a diesel generator that required a continuous — and expensive — fuel supply to power the machines.
 
The program assisted the wool company in purchasing 120 spinning wheels and chairs and two tents to improve workspace, and training on use of the new wheels. The new spinning wheels are foot-powered; the spinner sits and pumps a foot treadle that turns the wheel, leaving both hands free to handle the wool yarn.
 
“The foot-powered spinning wheel is easier and faster,” said Bibi Sabar, an Afghan woman who had worked at Sadaqat for a year and a half. “I don’t get tired. I think it’s like driving a car.”
Following the introduction of the foot-treadle spinning wheels — simple devices that date back seven centuries — Mr. Nabi almost tripled the number of women he employed to spin wool yarn in 2009 alone and increased the spinners’ wages by 20 percent.
In turn, Sadaqat’s sales jumped from $1,200 to $8,200 per month in 2009. Sadaqat sells its high-quality wool yarn to carpet producers in Kabul and Mazari Sharif, but Nabi eyed other markets as well. He hoped to export the wool to India and neighboring countries one day.
 
“There is a huge difference with the new spinning wheels,” said Nabi. “We are very grateful. Without this support from the United States, we would have been struggling.”

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