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Earth Observations and Sustainable Cashmere, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

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 A major challenge across arid regions of the planet is transitioning to sustainable livelihoods in the face of a harsh and changing climate. These transitions can be especially daunting in rangeland systems where livestock productivity, ecosystem services, and quality of life for people are highly interconnected through rangeland condition. The case summarized here has implications far beyond Mongolia, as global actors in business, development finance and civil society are engaging actively to innovate together, learn what is working, and then scale. Proving the case that new remote sensing technologies and ecosystem service analyses can inform both sustainable supply chain certification and evaluation of IFC performance standards for development impacts will help meet global verification demands that are critical for building confidence in approaches and resilience in outcomes.

Goat densities in Mongolia have increased fourfold over the past three decades, a response to increased global demand for cashmere, deregulation of the livestock sector, and the vagaries of harsh winters in a changing climate. Increased livestock density is wreaking havoc on people and wildlife—reducing financial certainty among herders, increasing dust storms, and affecting rangeland suitability for populations of wild ass (Khulan), goitered gazelle and other rare wildlife. To help create a more sustainable and resilient rangeland system, a diverse group of interests is innovating together as the Sustainable Cashmere Project (SCP). SCP works with herders through cooperatives. The Luxury group Kering (which includes brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga) is developing a sustainable source and supply chain of high-quality cashmere. The Oyu Tolgoi (OT) mining project (owned jointly by the Mongolian government and Rio Tinto) is applying the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s performance standards to offset impacts from its large copper and gold mining operation, investing in herder livelihoods and healthy rangelands. The Wildlife Conservation Society oversees field monitoring for rangeland condition, promotes wildlife conservation, and engages with local nomadic herders to improve pasture management activities, technical capacity, and access to the developing sustainable cashmere supply chain.

The Natural Capital Project is helping the SCP track and verify integrated impacts of new financial and management interventions in the vast Gobi Desert. NatCap is advancing remote sensing technology and ecosystem services modeling to measure the effects of changes in grazing practices, thus augmenting sparse field sampling, to answer questions about the relationships between grazing density, cashmere quality, herders’ income, rangeland conditions and wildlife populations. Trust will grow if the herders - those most vulnerable during the shift to more sustainable grazing practices - see evidence of the modeled relationships between their actions, rangelands, herd size, and livelihoods. 2018 marks only the 3rd season of SCP herders selling cashmere into the program, and the project continues to explore the best financial and social incentives to reward herders for their continued involvement.

The varied collaborators in the SCP have diverse motivations, but all care about healthier rangelands and more sustainable herder livelihoods. Aligning (1) market incentives through the developing sustainable cashmere market, (2) offset policies from OT mining, IFC financing standards, and the Government of Mongolia, and (3) openly shared verification of rangeland ecosystem condition, wildlife status, grazing intensity and herder livelihoods, could lead to a more resilient system. The potential for scaling comes through sustainable global supply chains, application of IFC performance standards, and verification systems for supply chains and offset policies using remote sensing. 

Collaborators:  Oyu Tolgoi, Kering, Wildlife Conservation Society, NASA

Project Category: Standards For Private Sector 
Project Status: Current

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