"Today, Mongolian rangeland is at a crossroads."
–Bulgamaa Densambuu

Lkhagvajav Bish's herd of cashmere goats feed on the winter grass in a valley in northeastern Mongolia. The goats' sharp hooves cut through the soil surface, and their eating habits – voraciously ripping up plants by their roots – prevents the grassland from thriving. Rob Schmitz/NPR

Lkhagvajav Bish's herd of cashmere goats feed on the winter grass in a valley in northeastern Mongolia. The goats' sharp hooves cut through the soil surface, and their eating habits – voraciously ripping up plants by their roots – prevents the grassland from thriving.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

The toughest, and highly emotional, conflict here is in the experience of the herders themselves. 

"Yes, I know my goats are harmful to our grassland and the more we have, the worse our land becomes. I get that. But this is how we earn our money." –Lkhagvajav Bish 

Efforts to supplement the income of the herders so that their reliance on the income provided by cashmere are underway, but still experimental and not at the necessary scale. International involvement is necessary, as proven by the organizations already involved in research and aid in the area. 

Psychologically, Mongolia feels very far away. Exotic and of another time, even. But mineral rich and in sheer square mileage, it is geographically a huge asset to the globe. Historically, the world was undeniably transformed by the unification of cultures through trade new communication channels under the Mongolian Empire. 

And here we are today, where a unique way of life depends on a resource that is voraciously consuming its own hope for survival. 

Lkhagvajav Bish unties one of her cows. Bish's herd has dwindled since she began raising cashmere goats. She used to have 20; now she has 150. "They're just taking over," she says. Rob Schmitz/NPR

Lkhagvajav Bish unties one of her cows. Bish's herd has dwindled since she began raising cashmere goats. She used to have 20; now she has 150. "They're just taking over," she says.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

Out of the box, wild thinking. That's what we need right now. And a movement, to bring in the resources to implement massive change at a massive scale. But in the meantime, think about it when you wear your cashmere, and appreciate it for the delicate and incredible material that it is, and the lives that, at least for now, depend on it.

Listen to or read the NPR story here.

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