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How is the world’s most expensive wool made? Why are Shahtoosh shawls banned?

How is the world’s most expensive wool made? Why are Shahtoosh shawls banned?


  • GS 3 || Economy || Industries || Cottage Industries

Why in the news?

  • A Delhi court convicted five Kashmiri men for possessing Shahtoosh Shawls which is made from the fur of a Tibetan Antelope, an animal protected under the Wildlife Act.

Shahtoosh Shawls

  • The Shahtoosh trade was banned globally in 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • The antelope is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Prevention) Act. This came into force after they were hunted and poached for their fine wool and then made into scarves and shawls which used to fetch exorbitant prices in affluent countries.

Woolen Industry in India

  • India is the world’s seventh-largest producer of wool, accounting for between 2% to 3% of global production.
  • Rajasthan is the world’s greatest wool producer, and its Chokla and Magra wool is prized for its outstanding carpet quality.
  • With about 64 million sheep, India has the world’s third-highest sheep population. Wool production is estimated to be in the range of 43-46 million kg per year.
  • The carpet grade is rougher than the garment grade, and it accounts for 85 percent of India’s output.
  • Wool for apparel accounts for less than 5% of total production, while coarse quality wool suitable for creating rough blankets accounts for the remainder.

Significance of the sector

  • This wool is then used to make products such as carpets, yarn, textiles, and clothes for both the domestic and international markets, particularly in the United States and Europe.
  • The wool textile industry employs 2.7 million people, including 1.2 million in the organized sector, 1.2 million in sheep breeding and farming, and 0.3 million carpet weavers.

Import of wool

  • India is reliant on imports of raw wool due to a lack of domestic production, mainly from Australia and New Zealand.
  • Despite having the world’s third-largest sheep population, India’s average yearly production per sheep was 0.9 kg in 2018-19, compared to the global average of 2.4 kg.
  • India produced 40.42 million kilograms of wool in 2019-20, compared to 260.8 million kg consumed.
  • An attempt has also been made to revive India’s Wool sector by importing Australian Merino sheep for crossbreeding.
    • The main trigger for import was deteriorating quality and quantity of carpet and apparel grades, largely due to inbreeding.

Favorable Conditions for wool industries 

  • The wool industry needs favorable climatic conditions like a dry climate. The damp, cold conditions in the Northern hemisphere are unsuitable for it and so the Southern hemisphere leads in wool production. In countries like Australia, the climate is dry and so agriculture is not feasible. Sheep rearing has better opportunities as sheep can survive in adverse conditions.
  • The high number in which sheep breeding was done meant better economies of scale i.e. less cost per unit due to high quantity of rearing. Thus Australia became dominant in the wool trade.
  • However, due to low demand in Australia for woolen clothes, most of the wool is exported. Australia doesn’t have the skilled labor for making woolen garments.

Challenges in the wool sector

  • Low demand for indigenous wool: Although wool consumption by the country’s processing units has increased by 50% in the last ten years, indigenous wool now accounts for less than 10% of overall sales.
  • Farmers’ Focus is Shifting: Farmers’ attention is shifting from wool to meat.
    • Telangana, for example, supports the meat-producing Nellore breed through a subsidized sheep distribution programme, and the breed currently accounts for 51% of the state’s sheep.
  • Pastoral land is dwindling: With the rise of plantations and urbanization, pastures are dwindling across the country.
    • More pastures are being lost to crops and urbanization
    • According to state agricultural department data, grazing land in Rajasthan decreased from 1.7 million hectares (ha) in 2007-08 to 1.6 million ha in 2017-18.
    • Other states’ grazing lands are also diminishing.
    • According to a study by the Centre for Pastoralism, the indigenous Patanwadi breed is no longer chosen by herders in Gujarat since encroachment and industrialization have diminished flat grazing grounds and these sheep are not good climbers.
  • Lack of interest in the younger generation
    • Wool shearing is unlike any other job. This is something that the younger generation does not want to do.
    • Shepherds are hesitant to use modern methods such as machine shearing.
  • Lack of awareness
    • However, there is a lack of awareness. Farmers are concerned that their sheep will be harmed.
    • In rural locations, the requirement for a constant source of electricity is often a concern.
  • Processing Facilities: The Woollen industry suffers from inadequate and outdated processing facilities. The pre-loom and post-loom facilities are required to be modernized for ensuring quality finished products.
  • Lack of a dedicated institute- There is no educational institute dedicated to wool technology, resulting in a scarcity of knowledge in the wool industry.
  • Low focus area and MSP– State governments place a low focus on the growth of the wool industry.
    • For a remunerative return, there is a lack of coordinated marketing and a minimum support price mechanism.
  • Research and Development- Inadequate marketing facilities and infrastructure, as well as a lack of R&D.

Government’s Initiative to boost the sector

  • The Ministry of Textiles developed an integrated programme called the Integrated Wool Development Programme to help the wool sector flourish holistically (IWDP).
  • The objective of the Scheme
    • To increase the annual wool production in India.
    • To improve the quality of wool fiber and the quality of processing the wool.
    • To establish service and research centres to improve the quantity and quality of import and export production.
    • To increase marketing and branding promotion for export production of wool

Way forward

  • Wool of a softer and finer quality should be produced
    • After India established mechanized spinning mills in the 1970s and 1980s, indigenous wool suffered for decades at the hands of machine-friendly long-staple wool (a cluster of the fibre of higher length).
    • Import barriers were eliminated in the late 1980s or early 1990s as India began importing long-staple wool from Australia, New Zealand, and West Asia, which was finer and softer than the brittle local wool.
    • Wool from Gujarat and the Deccan states is no longer exported because it is short-stapled.
  • Sector demands focus 
    • The woolen sector has not received the same level of attention as other agricultural activities: the type of research and time required in this sector have not been made available.
    • Wool could benefit from improved processing and marketing, as well as a minimum support price (MSP), similar to crops.
    • There were no processing facilities or mechanisms in places, such as washing, carding, or grading, to aid in its marketing.
  • Raising awareness about the importance and revival  of the sector
    • Because most shepherds rear sheep not because they want to, but because they don’t have any other options or because it’s their custom and traditional practice.
    • As a result, raising awareness, improving access to grazing areas, enabling wool selling, offering remunerative rates, and strengthening the supply chain for herders on the lowest rung of the ladder are all necessary steps in making this industry profitable.
  • Others
    • Improving access to pasture lands,
    • Facilitating the marketing of wool,
    • Upgrading the supply chain for herders who are on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Mains model Question

  • Discuss the importance of India’s woolen textile industries in terms of job creation and economic growth.