Photo: American Wool and Cashmere
Nesar Nusraty, founder of American Wool and Cashmere of Beltsville, Maryland was born in Afghanistan but immigrated to the United States as a teenager in 1969. He’d been in the U.S. for two decades when he met an Afghan businessman visiting Washington who was producing cashmere in Afghanistan but struggling to find a market for his products. At the time, Afghanistan was producing significant amounts of wool, but the country lacked the infrastructure to prepare it for export and distribution worldwide.
When Nusraty learned about these challenges, he began traveling around the world to study the market. He discovered that it often took up to 24 months from the time the cashmere wool was sheared until the local suppliers received payment. Without a steady income, small cashmere producers were often cash-strapped and unable to maintain a consistent level of production, since wool and cashmere production is a labor intensive process involving shearing animals and hand sorting the wool. In 1989, Nusraty founded American Wool and Cashmere to establish a reliable supply chain for Afghan’s small herders to sell their goods to major markets.
From the beginning, Nusraty’s vision for American Wool and Cashmere was focused on creating jobs and economic growth in a remote region of western Afghanistan, one of many places in the world where opportunity is limited. In 2015, when countries around the world agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they included “full and productive employment and decent work for all” among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to help address the large share of the world’s population that live in extreme poverty.
Nusraty later turned to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), to provide financing to help the business grow. As the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, OPIC provides financing and political risk insurance to help mobilize private capital to help address critical development challenges. OPIC often supports projects in conflict-affected regions and understands that job creation and economic stability can help advance political stability.
By working with centralized suppliers in Herat who buy directly from the livestock owners, American Wool and Cashmere developed a consistent supply chain to an overseas processing plant that has enabled individual herders to generate steady income through the otherwise seasonal shearing harvests. This delivery infrastructure has also helped the region’s herders create employment for about 1,500 local men and women.
With the support of a series of OPIC loans that began in 2003 and totaled $5.7 million, American Wool and Cashmere established delivery infrastructure for raw wool and cashmere produced in western Afghanistan to be transported to a processing facility in Belgium for export and distribution worldwide. American Wool and Cashmere has bought and consigned nearly 600 tons of raw cashmere from producers in Herat, and OPIC financing has helped them advance money to local suppliers. The company’s operations have contributed to the sustainable development of Afghanistan’s wool industry.
In 2016, OPIC presented American Wool and Cashmere with the OPIC Impact Award in the Development Impact category for the company’s exceptional achievement in international private-sector development.