Kashmiri scientists stole the lime light of world when a major breakthrough was achieved by a team of researchers of Sher e Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology (SKAUST), claimed to have successfully cloned worlds first Pashmina goat.
The project was headed by Dr Riyaz Ahmad Shah of Division of Biotechnology, SKAUST and was funded by World Bank and National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal. The female Pashmina cloned has been named NOORI an Arabic word which means divine light and Noori now hold the key to Kashmirs centuries-old attempt to have a secure and reliable source of Pashmina supplies to its now Rs 1,500-crore handicraft sector, which includes, especially, the Pashmina shawl.
The word Pashmina comes from a Persian word pashm, which means wool and Pashmina refers to a type of fine cashmere wool and the textiles made from it. The source of all real Pashmina fiber is the under-fleece of a particular species of mountain goat the changthangi or Pashmina goat Changra or Capra hircus. These goats are reared in herds at attitudes of 14,000 feet in the arid plateaus of ladakh, Tibet and Mongolia. The goat is never shaved. Goat herds remove the hair gently with a special comb to ensure that the fiber length is at least 5 cm long. One kilo of the raw wool (pashm) yields approximately 400-500 gm of clean fine Pashmina, after removing the coarse hair and dust. The process is called dehairing.
Specialty of Pashmina wool
The finest Pashmina wool generally has a diameter of 12.5-14 microns (1/6 the size of human hair which is 75 microns) and an average fleece fiber length of 2.5-9 cm. The raw wool is white, beige or dark fawn in its natural state, with white being the rarest and most expensive. Pashmina yarn is dehaired and spun entirely by hand so it cannot be classified into any fixed counts.
Finished Pashmina production
Kashmiris have been producing Pashmina shawls of hundreds of years. The weaving of Pashmina yarn is complex process just like the spinning of Pashmina yarn. Pashmina weaving is an exclusively male domain as opposed to spinning that is done exclusively by women. Handmade Kashmir Pashmina is produced in Srinagar district of Kashmir. Located in the western part of Kashmir valley, this area is at an elevation of 5,206 ft. Srinagar city is the capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and is the major center for Pashmina.
Historically, traders in Kashmir region used to procure raw Pashmina produced by Changpas herd of Pashmina goat (Capra Hircus Laniger) which was distributed to middleman in Kashmir. The middlemen had network of women, scattered across Kashmir, who processed the raw Pashmina on spinning wheels to make a fine thread out of the wool. The thread was then sent to manufacturing units where artisans manually weaved it to make fine quality Pashmina products such as shawls etc.
Pointing towards an old abandon wooden spinning wheel, Ayisha, a widow in her sixties said, To me and many of the women of my locality this wooden wheel (Indir) means a lot. It had been a reliable source of our income.
This faithful companion of mine helped me to run my family and fully fulfilled my desire to give best education for my children. We had hundreds of such women spinning Pashmina. They were the backbone of Pashmina industry prior to the introduction of mechanized processing units, she added.
Break in the supply of raw Pashmina
Of late there has been a marked decline in the quantity and quality of raw Pashmina coming from Ladakh. This reduction in the procurement of raw Pashmina occurred for several reasons. In 2004, a Pashmina dehairing plant was installed in Leh. The project was funded jointly by Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Union textile ministry and United Nation Development Program. This government intervention in a trade evoked resentment from local traders. As the value addition improved margins, the instant reaction from Srinagar was the artisans would not use the mechanically dehaired wool because it cuts the long fiber and diminishes the quality of the final product.
Finally, the LAHDC setup a cooperative that would procure wool from farmers, add value to it and market it. It did improve the margins for the herdsmen.
We are mandated to procure wool from growers directly, said Dr Tufail Ahmad, one of the members of the state wool board told this reporter from Global News Service. After LAHDC was setup, it procures wool, processes it and markets it. We do not have any role here.
As per Jammu and Kashmirs State Wool Board there is a demand of around one lakh kgs of Pashmina per year in Kashmir region but the traders are able to procure only 15,000 -20,000 kg from ladakh these days.
Significance of Noori
Noori which means light is supposed to fill the vacuum in the procurement that was occurred over the period of time, for it would be possible to produce raw Pashmina at much lower altitude in the Kashmiri itself. Naturally the Pashmina goat survives and produces Pashmina at a higher altitude, and as a thumb rule more the cold, finer the fiber. However, the cloned goat is set to change; it all survives in comparatively low altitude of Kashmir. If researchers are to be believed, Kashmir for the first time would be able to spin, process a Pashmina of its own.
Head of the cloning team, Dr Riyaz Ahmad Shah, who was earlier associated with the cloning of the first buffalo, Garima, says the results are not so bad. Our observation shows that Pashmina goats are able to survive and produce the fibre in significant quantities when reared under low altitude condition at our university farm, Dr Riyaz said. As per the words of Dr Majid Fazli, one of the research members, With Noori, there is a hope that Pashmina can be yielded at a lower altitude like Kashmir.
Worlds first sheep named Dolly was cloned in 1996 and lived for six years. Lets hope and pray Noori lives longer and lives up to its promise as is supposed to rejuvenate and add a new life to ailing Pashmina Industry of Kashmir. (GNS)
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