Thursday, March 19, 2009

WOOL by the International Year of Natural Fibers -ONU

What is it?


What is it?

Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated, and the first textiles were probably woven from their fleece. Today wool is still the world's leading animal natural fibre: its complex protein structure is responsible for unique characteristics and properties ?such as exceptional resilience and elasticity - that synthetic fibres just cannot match. Wool varies from super fine Merino fibre similar to cashmere, to very coarse hairy wools. The diameter of the fibre determines its final use and value - some 37 percent of world production is classed as fine wools, 22 percent as medium wools, and 41 percent as coarse wools. Two thirds of the wool harvest is used in the manufacture of garments, and about one third in carpets, upholstery and rugs. Industrial uses of wool - such as in insulation - accounts for about 5 percent of the total.

Who produces it?

Wool is produced in about 100 countries from a global flock of more than one billion head of sheep. Major producers are Australia, Argentina, China, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom and Uruguay. Depending on the country and region, wool producers range from small farmers to large scale commercial grazing operations.


How is it produced?

Sheep are usually shorn once a year in the spring/summer months, although in some countries shearing may take place as many as three times a year. Where production systems are advanced, the wool is rigorously tested to determine properties and different grades are packed separately. The second step in the production chain is so-called "early" processing, in which the wool is scoured to remove grease and dirt, then carded and combed. The semi-processed wool is then spun into yarn for use in fabrics, knitted garments or hand-knitting wool.

How much is produced?

FAO estimates annual wool production at around 2.1 million tonnes a year. Australia produces one fifth of that total, while China, New Zealand, Iran, Argentina and the UK each produced more than 50 000 tonnes in 2005. Exports of greasy plus scoured wool amount to around 800 000 tonnes annually. Like cotton, much of this is imported by processing countries for manufacture and subsequent re-export.

What are the prospects for wool?

Being a luxury fibre, demand for wool is sensitive to economic trends. The current global economic slowdown is expected to affect wool negatively, particularly by reducing demand in China, the world's biggest wool market. Also, falling oil prices may reduce the cost of synthetic fibres. To compete with synthetics, the wool industry continues to invest in new technologies which have made wool more attractive to consumers (e.g. crease resistance and washability) and given it a wider range of uses, such as "active sportswear".

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