Today, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a business development program for rural women entrepreneurs and artisans in the decorative felt production industry in Karakalpakstan. Participants will receive instruction in modern wool processing technologies, business training, and access to financing, which will help eliminate existing bottlenecks to industry growth. The program will contribute to the women-led revival of this ancient Karakalpak industry.
“The United States supports the Government of Uzbekistan’s efforts to diversify its economy, increase trade and create meaningful employment for Uzbekistan’s population, including women and youth. USAID is committed to expanding women and girls’ access to the workforce as skilled employees and entrepreneurs. This program will empower women who have borne the brunt of global climate change and the Aral Sea crisis,” said USAID Mission Director in Uzbekistan Mikaela Meredith.
Decorative felt production is an important element of Karakalpakstan’s unique cultural heritage and was a cornerstone of the local economy for centuries. In recent years, the standard and availability of raw materials has decreased as the Aral Sea crisis has changed Karakalpakstan’s climate. The resulting low volume and poor quality of finished products has all but destroyed this once flourishing industry. The evaporation of the Aral Sea has destroyed many traditional industries in Karakalpakstan, with job loss and health impacts falling disproportionately on women.
USAID will train local craftswomen to use modern wool production and processing technologies to improve the standard of material inputs, provide financing for equipment purchase, and support access to new markets. As a result, artisans will be able to diversify and add value to their products and sell to new markets both in Central Asia and around the world.
Training will take place in the Nukus, Shomanay, Muynak, and Bozataw districts of Karakalpakstan and will be implemented by Tumar Group, a female-managed manufacturer of eco-friendly shoes and décor items. Tumar Group has employed craftswomen in Kyrgyzstan to produce sustainable felt products for international export markets, including the U.S., the European Union, and Canada since 1998.