Cashmere is Causing Rapid Desertification


Photo credit: ONE GREEN PLANET

Daesung Lee

How Cashmere is Causing Rapid Desertification and Destruction in Mongolia


Mongolia is currently a country undergoing extreme change. It’s home to one of the last nomadic cultures on Earth, livestock herders who spend their lives wandering the vast Mongolian Steppes, a broad swath of grassland that partially borders the Gobi Desert. About 40 percent of Mongolia’s citizens are herders, living in elaborate tents called gers (yurts) and moving to fresh pastures with the changing seasons. But in recent years, more and more nomadic herders are abandoning their way of life, leaving behind the wild steppes, and pitching their tents on the edges of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, refugees of climate change, a shifting economy, and, oddly enough, a growth in the production of cashmere.

Mongolia’s Climate

Since the 1940s, Mongolia’s average yearly temperatures have risen by 2.14 degrees Celcius. That’s more than twice as much as Earth’s total temperature has risen during that time, and 21 times faster than the natural rate at which Earth has warmed over the past 5,000 years (based on NASA statistics). This change in temperature has compounded a weather anomaly in the region called the dzud, which causes dry summers and exceptionally cold winters. These weather patterns have a negative impact on the amount of grass that can grow in the Mongolian Steppes, which means there’s less food for livestock. But rainfall and temperature aren’t the only environmental pressures on the native grasses. In 1990, emboldened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia underwent a peaceful revolution that demolished its Communist government in favor of a democracy. The Communist regime had previously maintained strict control of the number of livestock that could be raised, but with those restrictions lifted after the revolution, nomadic herders quickly began to increase their livestock holding. The total number of livestock, which was capped at 20 million under Communist Mongolia, has since more than tripled to 70 million today. That’s more than three times as much livestock now feeding on a dwindling reserve of grass.

So How Does Cashmere Fit Into the Story?

It turns out that not only has the number of livestock changed, but the composition of herds has also undergone a radical makeover.

Read the full story: ONE GREEN PLANET


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.