Mongolia produces 40 per cent of the world’s cashmere supply from its goats, but climate change and overproduction are threatening this unique way of life
FORTY per cent of the world’s cashmere is sourced from the windswept plateau of Mongolia.
The fabric is made from the undercoats of the local goats, which develop a particularly tight fur to survive the harsh winters, where temperatures can drop as low as -40°C. In past decades, cashmere has made a fortune for local herders, becoming the main source of income for a third of the Mongolian population.
But lately climate change and overproduction have threatened the cashmere supply, and a unique way of life with it. In Mongolia, temperatures have warmed by more than 2°C in the past 80 years, above the world average, and could rise by up to 5°C by the end of the century. Milder winters – which can negatively affect the quality of cashmere – are now followed by long, dry springs and short summers, when not enough rain falls to sustain the pastures.
The global cashmere boom saw the number of goats skyrocket from 10.2 million to 26.5 million, causing overgrazing and desertification. Seventy per cent of Mongolia’s pastures are already considered degraded.
To address the problem, local herders are reviving traditional pastureland management practices. Cooperatives have also been set up to coordinate grazing and rotation between pastures, to give nature the chance to replenish itself, and the national government has imposed a tax on livestock to curb numbers.
But so far, no alternative source of income seems a ready substitute to a fabric that has provided an economic lifeline for a nomadic way of life that would otherwise have been lost.
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