AN R8-million summit aimed at expanding one of the Eastern Cape's largest and longest- standing industries, the mohair sector, kicked off in the Karoo farming town of Jansenville yesterday.
About 300 delegates – ranging from government officials, journalists, farmers and international mohair buyers – are attending the second International Mohair Summit, which wraps up tomorrow with festivities which include a street carnival and multiple musical performances.
The aim of the summit is to attract investors and to grow jobs in the sector.
Opening proceedings in a newly refurbished Jansenville town hall yesterday, Local Government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane said the government needed to look at revitalising small towns in South Africa and at ways of retaining young residents who often left for bigger cities.
"This is a conference which is becoming the pride of the Eastern Cape.
"We want to show international investors we have a sound economic plan looking to the future," Qoboshiyane said.
The mohair industry is fighting to remain globally viable. In 1988 South Africa – mostly the Eastern Cape – produced 12 million kilograms of the 26 million kilograms of mohair globally. Today South Africa accounts for 2.3 million kilograms of the 4.6 million kilograms produced globally.
The industry has shed many jobs over the years, according to industry analysts, with many farm workers moving to towns and cities, forcing farmers to hire seasonal labourers.
Today the industry supports about 6000 labourers who in turn have about 30000 dependants, according to Mohair South Africa statistics.
There are about 1000 commercial farmers in the industry – roughly half the number from 20 years ago.
The one part of the industry which is showing growth is small and emerging farmers who are being trained and mentored through various industry- funded initiatives.
Mohair South Africa general manager Deon Saayman said the industry needed to retain its refined, high-end status, rather than return to 1988 mass production levels.
Economic Development MEC Mcebisi Jonas, who addressed delegates along with Qoboshiyane yesterday afternoon, said the government needed to "redefine its support for the agricultural sector".
"The most important thing we must achieve here is how to utilise public investment to stimulate private investment," Jonas said.
"We need to be focused and strategic in utilising government resources to bring in private investment and create sustainable growth in the industry."
Today the mohair industry will deliver its views on the state of mohair in South Africa, and also announce plans to develop the sector among small and emerging farmers.
Party planner to the stars, former East London schoolboy Colin Cowie, who is now based in the US, will address delegates about international mohair trends and marketing.