USAID Supports Women Entrepreneurs in Karakalpakstan to Revive Cultural Heritage Industry

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September 27, 2022 – Today, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a business development program for women entrepreneurs and rural artisans in the decorative felt production industry in Karakalpakstan. Participants will receive training in modern wool processing technologies, business training and access to finance, which will help remove existing bottlenecks to industry growth. The program will contribute to the female-led revival of this ancient Karakalpak industry.

“The United States supports the efforts of the government of Uzbekistan to diversify its economy, increase trade, and create meaningful jobs for the Uzbek population, including women and youth. USAID is committed to expanding women’s 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 Uzbekistan Mission Director Mikaela Meredith.

Decorative felt production is an important part of Karakalpakstan’s unique cultural heritage and has been a cornerstone of the local economy for centuries. In recent years, the standard and availability of raw materials has declined as the Aral Sea crisis has altered the climate of Karakalpakstan. The resulting low volume and poor quality of end products have all but destroyed this once thriving industry. Evaporation from the Aral Sea destroyed many traditional industries in Karakalpakstan, with job losses and health effects disproportionately affecting women.

USAID will train local artisans in the use of modern wool production and processing technologies to improve the quality of material inputs, provide funding for the purchase of equipment, and promote access to new markets. As a result, artisans will be able to diversify and add value to their products and sell in new markets both in Central Asia and around the world.

The training will take place in Nukus, Shomanay, Muynak and Bozataw districts of Karakalpakstan and will be implemented by Tumar Groupa women-led eco-shoe and home decor maker. Tumar Group has been employing artisans in Kyrgyzstan to produce durable felt products for international export markets including the United States, European Union and Canada since 1998.

This initiative is part of USAID’s $3.4 million Women’s Economic Empowerment Program that supports rural women in Uzbekistan, equipping them with the skills they need to enter the economy as skilled employees and entrepreneurs.

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