Responsible Wool Standards: Why Suidplaas has no regrets
DOHNE MERINO, WOOL | Oct 20, 2021
Dohne Merino Suidplaas is certified as per the Responsible Wool Standards.
And we’re proud to be one of the 2 000 farms in South Africa that have chosen this route – and to live in the country with the highest number of farms adhering to these standards.
Suidplaas Dohne Merinos signed up to the Responsible Wool Standards (RWS) in 2019 – at the time when responsible practices in the wool industry first really took off in South Africa.
According to Wynand du Toit, owner of Suidplaas, we do it not only for the benefits associate with these standards, such as access to international markets. “We are audited as per the RWS because it’s our responsibility to prove that our practices are sustainable, and to encourage consumers to choose responsibly sourced wool.”
Suidplaas Dohnes is audited through OVK, which represents producers making use of OVK’s Internal Control System. Once the audit is completed by OVK, and farmers meet the standards required, they are then RWS-certified.
What is RWS?
Heinrich Victor, Manager of Sustainability Services at OVK, says RWS has two main goals:
· To show the producer is sustainable in his or her practices;
· And to allow consumers to trace each product from the farm to the shop.
He says, “Now consumers can assess the entire value chain and make informed decisions about what products they choose to buy.” RWS is also applicable to other stakeholders in the supply chain, including wool spinners.
Why become RWS certified?
Heinrich says the international demand for RWS certified product is growing and in many instances consumers are willing to pay a premium for RWS certified product.
“Consumers are willing to pay more for this sense of security regarding the production process. The price doesn’t matter to many of these consumers, but they rather focus on the sustainability brand on the product.”
Premiums vary according to the type of wool. In recent times, buyers have paid premiums ranging from 6% up to 23%. However, these premiums are constantly changing and Heinrich advises producers to consider becoming certified for a variety of reasons – most importantly because they will be doing the right thing.
What does certification entail?
Producers who want to become RWS-certified need to adhere to three layers in the audit:
– The animals’ welfare, to prove animals are cared for
– Land management, including farm and biodiversity plans to prove the livestock and the natural resources are well managed
– Social welfare, which ensures all social compliances are met as per the country’s (and international)
Producers don’t need to get everything in place immediately. There are three steps:
– Critical elements: These must be in place with immediate effect when the auditor first visits
– Major elements: Farmers have 30 days to get these in place
– Minor elements: Farmers have 60 days to get these in place.
What are the costs?
Heinrich says there are costs associated with the process. Agriculture companies offer different services and rates to farmers. OVK charges R4 000 for an initial audit, and R2 000 per audit thereafter, as well as a R500 certification fee.
Wynand says there may also be costs to meet compliance standards. “You must ensure your property is up to standard in order to comply. Don’t be caught out by hidden costs, such as fixing infrastructure, like your kraal, or marking your danger points on your farm.”
Making wool attractive to consumers
Heinrich says wool makes up just 1% of the global textile market. That means people don’t have to buy wool as there are many alternatives, such as cotton and polyester. “So we should make wool attractive to consumers to buy.”
Currently 35% of wool clip from South Africa is RWS-certified.
Wynand says he doesn’t regret his decision to become certified. “There are a lot of steps needed to become RWS-certified. But in the end it’s worth it. We can now show anyone who asks how we manage our farm and our animals exactly what we do and how we do it, every step of the way.”