WWD: Mongolian Cashmere Industry at a Crossroads

By Dene-Hern Chen
with contributions from Munkhbat Batbekh

April 5, 2017

A Mongolian herder with his goats and sheep in Murun, Mongolia. (Credit: Taylor Weidman)

A Mongolian herder with his goats and sheep in Murun, Mongolia. (Credit: Taylor Weidman)

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia – A cashmere scarf from Hermès — with its colorful dyed yarn and intricate patterning — can go for over $1,000. Shang Xia, a Chinese high-end lifestyle boutique backed by Hermès, showcases cashmere felt robes that retail at around the same price point. Yet the fiber that is painstakingly crafted into these one-of-a-kind pieces has a more humble origin — the cashmere goats of Mongolia.

With more than 25 million goats grazing on the country’s steppes, Mongolia commands the second-largest cashmere stock worldwide, accounting for about a third of the global supply. Last year, according to the Mongolia Wool and Cashmere Association, the country produced 8,500 tons of raw cashmere fiber, and it is expecting that amount to climb above 9,000 tons in 2017.

But the industry — as well as the nomadic herders who raise the goats — is at a crossroads. The rapid, exponential increase in livestock throughout the country has led to the decimation of pastures, which threatens desertification of the lands. Meanwhile, herders who are at a loss for how to gain a more viable income are hit hard by the growing frequency of harsh winter conditions, which is called a dzud — a Mongolian word referring to a weather phenomenon that can leave massive numbers of livestock dead due to heavy snowfall and ice.

Although a dzud used to sweep the country once a decade, Mongolia is currently experiencing one for the second year in a row, with temperatures dipping as low as minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit in the northern part of the country.

So far this winter, 168,000 livestock have perished, affecting more than 265,000 people in herder households, according to the Mongolia Red Cross Society. The number of dead livestock is likely to climb past 300,000 by mid-May, when the first grass sprouts on the ice-covered plains.

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