Our Work

Why We Need to Act

Cashmere production is the backbone of herders’ livelihoods in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. Without cashmere, hundreds of thousands of people would lose their livelihoods.

Today, the cashmere industry is facing increasing challenges to its ecological, social and economic sustainability. Political transitions and high international demand for this luxury fibre have led to a dramatic increase in goat numbers which, coupled with changing land use practices and climate change, has led to overgrazed and degraded pastures that are less able to support both domestic livestock and native wildlife.

In Mongolia, desertification and economic hardship are driving nomadic herders to the city to seek alternative work. The expanding slum of gers around the capital of Ulaanbaatar are evidence of just how tough life has become.

Time To Act

Consumer awareness of sustainability and animal welfare concerns is rising, and brands and retailers are under increasing pressure to demonstrate sustainability and transparency in their supply chains. There has been a rise in claims of ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ cashmere – although often there is little information to support these claims. In response to the needs of the cashmere sector, the SFA Cashmere Standard offers a globally recognised, credible sustainability standard that addresses social, environmental and welfare concerns. and can provide a common understanding of what we mean by ‘responsibly-produced cashmere’.

Environment

“The land is the soul of the nation”

ancient mongolian quote


How are we protecting rangelands?

The SFA’s Rangeland Stewardship Code of Practice ensures that rangelands are managed in a way that minimises the risk of pasture degradation and protects wildlife. This is done by promoting collective action and a return to traditional land management practices by herding communities. The code of practice is based on each herding community coming up with a rangeland management plan to improve pasture condition and conserve native wildlife. The plan must state clear boundaries for communal grazing and identify areas for reserve pasture.


The herding plan states the clear boundaries for herding

Herders assess their grazing area.

Herders identify rotational grazing movements to avoid overgrazing.

Herders identify areas for wildlife protection and habitat restoration.

“I feed salt to the wild mountain sheep and mountain goats because we don’t have any of it in our area. I also feed them grass during the harsh winters.”

SFA Young Herder of the Year 2019, Ganzorig O.

Animal Welfare

We recognise that maintaining animal health and well-being is crucial to cashmere producers’ way of life and future prosperity. Our Animal Husbandry Code of Practice helps to monitor and improve welfare practices of Mongolia’s nomadic herders, while our new joint code of practice with ICCAW will target farm-based cashmere production in Inner Mongolia.

Both codes of practice are based on the internationally recognised Five Freedoms of animal welfare:

  1. Freedom from thirst and hunger
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  4. Freedom to express most normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

The prosperity of herders follows the prosperity of their herd. If you succeed to love the herd, the herd will repay with love.

Altansukh T, Bayan Tol Cooperative

Nomadic Herding and Farming Approaches

In Mongolia, herders practice pastoral herding methods and live alongside their animals, accompanying them to their pasture and moving with them to find sufficient forage. Together they face harsh and unpredictable environments, whether that be droughts, storms and extreme temperature fluctuations.

In contrast, the Inner Mongolia region of China has undergone a vast shift in the way livestock are raised. Since grazing land has been privatised and fenced, herders now raise their goats in ways much more familiar to the western-style of farming, with barns and fenced fields.

Both nomadic pastoralism and farm-based cashmere production can be welfare-friendly. We understand the need for codes of practice that are adapted to the different context, depending on whether goats are raised by farming or pastoral methods.


Livestock and wildlife

Our approach to animal welfare also considers the welfare of the native wildlife that share their rangeland habitat with cashmere goats. Through training and workshops on our Rangeland Stewardship Code of Practice, we promote practices that help preserve pasture condition and water sources in order to maintain healthy populations of wildlife. This is particularly important for wild ungulate species that rely on the same pasture resources as domestic livestock.

Herder Livelihoods

An ancient pastoral tradition

Nomadic herders have been grazing their animals on Mongolia’s rangelands for over 4000 years. They are a stoic people and proud of their ancient pastoral heritage. Cashmere is a nomadic herder’s primary source of income; without it, they would no longer be able to maintain their livelihood.

Protecting the unique culture and rich traditions of Mongolian pastoral society is an important part of our work. By building resilience and economic well-being, we hope to reduce the number of herders moving to city slums and ensure future herders can continue this way of life for generations to come.


The nomadic herding way of life:

Several key features define the Mongolian way of herding.

  • Seasonal movements between pastures,
  • Mixed herds of different livestock species
  • Flexibility in movements, campsites and use of livestock products
  • Reciprocal relations, based on the premise that if you help others, they will help you in the future

These strategies help herders cope with the region’s unpredictable and highly variable climate in a way that is economically and ecologically sustainable


How has life changed for herders?

Changes to society and climate change are now threatening this ancient way of life and the rangelands that support it. Herders are motivated to increase their herd size as cashmere is generally sold by quantity, not quality. Life for herders is becoming increasingly difficult as they contend with the following challenges:

  • Increased crowding around wells and town centres
  • Conflicts over pasture rights are increasing.
  • Risk from climatic disasters
  • Vulnerability to fluctuations in the cashmere market
  • Reliance on high interest loans to make it through the year

Many herders have come together to form groups such as herding cooperatives and community-based rangeland management groups, in order strengthen their voice and improve their situation.

How does the SFA support herders?

The SFA works with established herding groups – both formal and informal – that consist of multiple herding families in a communal grazing area. Collectively, we refer to these groups as ‘herder organisations’. We support herder organisations in governance and participatory planning to bring benefits for their livelihood, land and animals.


We work with herders to help improve pasture condition and animal health.

We provide training in rangeland management and wildlife conservation

SFA herders receive better market access and are less vulnerable to market shocks

We recognise exemplary herder groups with sustainability awards.

We run educational programmes for young herders and school-leavers.


“Prior to being involved with the SFA, our cooperative didn’t work collaboratively, so we’d each sell direct to the traders and they’d determine the price while now we supply it to the cooperative and work together to strengthen our position.”

Burmaa L

SFA and the SDGs

Our 2030 Strategy outlines our plan to scale up our efforts in Mongolia and expand into the Inner Mongolian region of China. The United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) played an important role in our planning process and development of our monitoring and evaluation framework. These 17 goals are broad, holistic and interconnected, and are designed to help balance the often competing objectives of economic development, poverty reduction and sustainable resource use.

The SDGS have helped to define our contribution to a better, more sustainable world by 2030. Through our work, the SFA contributes to 11 of the 17 goals.

Click on each goal to learn more about our contribution…