Summary: I am currently learning about the ecological impacts of the high demand for cashmere wool. This article serves as a working document for the things I have learned. If any of the links are not working for you or if you need a PDF of one of the research studies, please contact me.
Impacts of increased global demand for cashmere and overgrazing
When I read this source, I learned that the number of herders in Mongolia tripled in the 10 years following decollectivization in 1990. Since the demand for cashmere made goats more valuable, the number of goats as a percentage of livestock has increased. This has negative effects on the environment: goats are more harmful to vegetation than other livestock because they graze more vigorously and prefer the leaves and needles of woody plants which leads to deforestation. Goats eat the flowers and roots that seed new grasses.
In Inner Mongolia, Chinese government policies promoted household enclosures to maximize pastoral productivity and mitigate the effects of desert expansion. However, these policies have had the opposite effect of their intention. source
An estimated 70% percent of Mongolian grasslands are damaged to some degree. These grasslands are being overtaken by the Gobi desert. However, it is hard to protect the grasslands because the Mongols enjoy having open unregulated grassland and won’t vote for a politician that opposes them. The number of grazing live stock in Mongolia has more than tripled, going from 20 million to 61.5 million. Many of these animals are goats, which are more harmful to grasslands. Climate change is also a factor in the damage of these grasslands: from 1940 to 2015 the temperature increased by 2.07°C, which is twice the global average. However, the overgrazing has caused 80% of the decline in vegetation.
How can the grasslands be restored?
One group that is trying to prevent the overgrazing issues is Wildlife Conservation Society Mongolia, which visits herders frequently to present research findings and help herders breed better goats with vitro fertilization and superior sperm so they don’t have to have so many goats to produce the same income.
This study shows that in many cases, pastoralists do not optimize the grazing habits of their animals. The study did a grazing experiment and found that light sheep grazing can increase biodiversity. It recommended 2–3 sheep or sheep equivalents per hectare in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. I was surprised to see that average liveweight gain ( the weight of an animal while living ) per sheep and net secondary productivity were not significantly different between light grazing and moderate grazing treatments during the experimental period, but they were significantly higher than that in the overgrazing treatment. Thus, overgrazing prevents a herd from being in its optimal condition.
Here are some other things that could help restore the grasslands:
- Research indicates that the presence of nitrogen can accelerate restoration of grasslands
- The presence of small rodents such as Mongolian Gerbils can contribute to grassland restoration
Grass in the Mongolian Steppe
- Leymus Chinensis is a perenial species of graminae that is widely distributed in the Eurasian steppe. It has a high trampling tolerance and high amount of protein, which makes it an excellent grass for pastoralists.
- Goats suffer extend periods of nutrient deficiency, which can last as long as 7 months because green herbage are abundant only in the summer and early autumn
- Leymus Chinensis germinates in alternating temperatures, which makes it difficult to find alternative locations for cashmere goat grazing