NOMGON SOUM, Mongolia -- In the Mongolian Gobi Desert, Batchuluun's herd of more than 1,000 goats produces valuable cashmere wool that enables him to support a family of five in a traditional ger, or tent. It is equipped with solar panels, a TV and smartphones, and a Kia Frontier truck is parked in front. But the nomadic herder is most proud that he is passing on this traditional way of life to the next generation. His middle son dropped out of school to return to the ger and take up herding.
"Our herding culture is thousands of years old in Mongolia, and I am very happy that he will continue," he said. Proud though he is of his traditional lifestyle, it is threatened by its own success. The cashmere trade that underpins the herder economy is leading to widespread pasture degradation and desertification, putting the long-term sustainability of the industry in doubt. Some 70% of Mongolia's pastures, which comprise over 70% of the country's landmass, are showing signs of degradation, according to research by the Wildlife Conservation Society Mongolia, while 2% are severely degraded.