Batogoo Dorj is a nomad in southern Mongolia’s Bayankhongor Region who makes his living raising cashmere goats. Each spring, Dorj can shear about 300 grams of the valuable, downy wool from each of his 350 goats. Those voracious and sharp-hoofed animals are contributing to the desertification and climate change that is reducing Mongolia’s available grazing land. Yet for Dorj and thousands like him in Mongolia, short-term necessity is eclipsing long-term sustainability.
Cashmere wool is one of Mongolia's most prized animal-product exports. The second-largest cashmere producer (after China), Mongolia accounts for 28 percent of the world's total supply, according to the Mongol Cashmere Association. The wool brings around $180 million annually into the country. For the 36 percent of Mongols who still adhere to a nomadic lifestyle, cashmere is often an integral part of their livelihood.
"Eighty percent of our income is from cashmere. It's the money we earn now [in the spring] that we rely on for the entire year -- to send our kids to school, to stock food, repair things," says Dorj.
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Pearly Jacob is a freelance journalist based in Ulaanbaatar.