What if we use what we have learned from the pandemic to find a way to live in a relationship with ourselves, each other and nature that is caring, nurturing and flourishing?
In common with many other countries around the world, Mongolia has felt the pain caused by the suspension of global markets. One of Mongolia's largest industries has been hit especially hard by COVID-19 – cashmere. Mongolia is the world's second-largest producer of raw cashmere after China, accounting for approximately one-third of global supply. It is the country's third-largest export after copper and gold.
Over the past few months, numerous problems across the textile supply chain have translated into a steep drop in cashmere prices, and four months after the start of the crisis cashmere prices remain low, jeopardizing the herders’ economic welfare.
Environmental challenges run alongside the economic problems. Desertification and land degradation threaten 77 percent of Mongolia’s area, largely caused by overgrazing by livestock. Rising temperatures make matters worse, with a 2°C increase over the past 70 years. Quota restrictions limited herd growth until they were lifted in 1990, when the goat population soared from 5.1 million to today’s 27 million. They are looked after by 233 thousand nomadic herder households or, some 25% of the country's population.
In order to find ways to bolster the national economy and strengthen the cashmere industry, UNDP Green Commodities Programme has been supporting UNDP Mongolia since 2018 to implement a pilot project to test the viability of a value chain business model for sustainably produced cashmere. This project follows UNDP GCP’s proven Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration for Systemic Change pathway towards commodity sustainability. The Mongolia Sustainable Cashmere Platform (MSCP) will work with a range of stakeholders to produce a National Action Plan for sustainable cashmere.
In May 2020, the first Steering Committee meeting of the Mongolia Sustainable Cashmere Platform was held at the UN House in Ulaanbaatar. Chaired by the UNDP Mongolia Resident Representative, Elaine Conkievich, the meeting was attended by 7 out of the 8 members forming the new Steering Committee, including A. Amgalan, Technical Advisor at FAO, Ts. Erdenebat, Economic and Industrial Policy Advisor to the Mongolian President, T. Bulgan, Head of Green Development Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, D. Altantsetseg, Executive Director at the Mongolian Wool and Cashmere Association, N. Gankhuyang, Executive Director of the Mongolian National Federation of Pasture User Groups, and B. Bathkishing, Representative of the Advisory Committee. Absent in this inaugural meeting was B. Bathkuu, Director of the Light Industry Policy Implementation and Coordination at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry.
The global pandemic gives a particular opportunity to implement comprehensive sustainability measures to curb overgrazing. Indeed, during her opening remarks, Ms. Conkievich said that even though the COVID-19 global pandemic is a burden to the cashmere sector, "it is also an opportunity to create a foundation for cooperation, ensuring sustainability of future actions, direct supply and exports of cashmere and products with added-value".
During the meeting, D. Altantsetseg raised the important question of how negatively the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the producers and small, medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the cashmere industry in Mongolia, leading to what she referred as the ‘stagnation’ of the sector: "This pandemic has resulted in higher costs of production and lower prices in commodities, which means dangerous proximity to sector bankruptcy". Her concern was echoed by N. Gankhuyang, who predicted that herders' livelihoods may worsen in the upcoming months.
The Steering Committee is designed to bring together stakeholders at the highest decision-making levels in the sector to tackle strategic organizational issues and challenges: market access, pockets of success, and a question of definition: what is sustainable cashmere? The involvement of the whole system is vital: "The expertise in multi-stakeholder collaboration and the strong systems thinking approach that UNDP Green Commodities Programme brings to the table is a valuable tool to confront the ‘seemingly unresolvable’ problem at hand", says Shinee Volooj, Mongolian Sustainable Cashmere Platform Manager.
3 technical working groups are operational as part of the Platform’s planned activities: one on consensus on sustainability, one on COVID-19 recovery and one international market sector advisory group. The proceedings of technical working group meetings will be publicly available once the Platform website is released.
In August, the platform's website will be launched while formal launch of the platform is expected to happen later in 2020. Around 150-200 people are expected to take part in the Plenary meeting – an impossible scenario today with the current security measures in place around the world. In a collaborative process between all the stakeholders involved, the comprehensive National Action Plan will be presented for approval by all.
As T.Bulgan from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism said at the meeting, the next few steps in the platform's development process are critical. "For the results to be achieved, we need to ensure that the criteria set for success are measurable and clearly defined. From the Ministry of Environment and Tourism perspective, we want to look at the bigger picture of environmental sustainability in the production of cashmere".