Picture: 123RF/THANAPOL KUPTANISAKOM
Picture: 123RF/THANAPOL KUPTANISAKOM

Mohair sales in Lesotho, which produces a fifth of the world’s supply of the luxury fibre, have restarted after the government buckled under pressure from farmers and ended a controversial monopoly handed to a Chinese entrepreneur.

The first auction conducted by locally owned Maluti Wool and Mohair Centre took place on October 7 and the first shipments of the fibre were made October 17, said David Telford, the company’s MD. Record prices were achieved and farmers will be paid by October 28, he said.

The sale eases a crisis that left most of an estimated 48,000 wool and mohair farmers without earnings for more than a year after Guohui Shi and his Lesotho Wool Centre were unable to pay for the product they bought. Wool and mohair are Lesotho’s main exports. Shi didn’t answer a call made to his cellphone.

“We are trying to get some money back into the system and get the wheels turning. The industry was on its knees,” said Telford, whose company fired 300 workers after the monopoly was awarded to Shi. “We have also suffered, but not as much as the farmers who could not put food on the table.”

While the government has ended the monopoly, it’s still insisting that wool and mohair be auctioned locally rather than being sold in SA, which has been the practice for decades. Combining the output of SA and Lesotho arguably makes the auctions in Port Elizabeth more attractive to foreign buyers.

SA’s BKB controlled most of the market and is now advising Maluti. Auctioning the fibre in Lesotho increases costs and, while international mohair buyers may travel there, its wool industry is less likely to attract interest because it’s smaller than many global competitors. Maluti is yet to start selling wool. SA produces half of the world’s mohair and runs the biggest auction globally in Port Elizabeth.

“The farmers will get their money and that’s the main thing,” said Isak Staats, GM for wool and mohair at BKB. “It’s an expensive solution. You are doubling the infrastructure.”

Bloomberg