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  • Writer's pictureEvîn Cheikosman

Tuesday Project Spotlight: Sustainable Fibre Alliance

Updated: Mar 4, 2023


“Cashmere is named after Kashmir, the now disputed territory between India and Pakistan, and traditional producer of famous pashmina scarves. But Kashmir goats have traditionally been raised across Central and Northern Asia, including in Tibet and Nepal. The largest producers (in order) are China, Mongolia, Iran, and Afghanistan. It’s the second highest-earning export from Mongolia. Each sweater requires about four goats to produce (1).”

According to the Textile Exchange Report 2021, “Global cashmere production was around 25,208 tonnes of greasy fibers in 2020. About 60 percent of the cashmere was produced in China, 20 percent in Mongolia, and the remaining 20 percent in other countries. The market share of preferred cashmere programs increased from 0.8 percent in 2019 to around 7 percent of all cashmere produced worldwide in 2020.”

“As China has taken control of cashmere flowing out of Mongolia and ramped up their spinning and knitting technology, goat herders are going for quantity over quality, switching from other traditional animals like yaks to cashmere goats. The number of goats in Mongolia has tripled to more than 61 million. As they graze the grasslands down to nubs and dig their millions of sharp hooves into the ground, they’re damaging the steppe and causing desertification. Combined with climate change and artisanal mining, overgrazing has led to an estimated 70% of grazing lands being considered degraded. It may be irreversible within five years.”2


The Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA) is a global multi-stakeholder initiative with a mission to ensure the long-term viability of the cashmere sector. SFA promotes their SFA Cashmere Standard to encourage the adoption of responsible production practices that minimize environmental impact, safeguard herder livelihoods and meet high animal welfare standards.

The Nutag Framework (3).

In Mongolian, nutag describes the concept of “homeplace” and encompasses the herders’ nomadic culture, ancestral history and wealth of traditional knowledge, along with cultural norms of rangeland governance and use. In short, everything about pastoral life is described through the lens of nutag.

SFA believes that for cashmere production to be sustainable, the whole system must be addressed and analyzed; including environmental impact, herder well-being, and animal welfare. This principle of holistic sustainability is at the center of nutag and SFA’s approach. The Nutag Framework incorporates local, traditional knowledge with scientific knowledge and best practice, in order to promote resilience for herders and the environment.


In a pilot, the United Nations Development Programme worked with the Mongolian government, the SFA, and herders, to use blockchain technology to track cashmere herds and limit production from overgrazed areas. Herders used a mobile phone app created by Toronto-based Convergence.Tech to register their cashmere with a radio-frequency identification tag that was regularly scanned from the goats to the processing facilities. The pilot tagged and registered about five tonnes of cashmere across three northeastern provinces (4).​’s Ethereum blockchain solution, Backbone​, provided users with:

  1. Complete visibility of the critical path through the deployment of trusted and accurate data, allowing buyers to identify the source of their cashmere.;

  2. The connection of sustainability and environmental impact data to enable ethical raw cashmere sourcing decisions to get made with certainty.;

  3. Effective creation of a market that can help to connect buyers interested in sustainability, with sellers who follow sustainable practices.; &

  4. Creation of a channel for targeted incentivization schemes to reward herders for following sustainable practices (5).

A recap of the pilot is embedded below and can be found on SFA’s site. China_Webinar_chain-of-custody-presentation-12th-March-2020


These two short films provide insight into the lives and unique perspectives of the herders with whom SFA works. To watch more, point your browser to SFA’s “Meet the Herders” page or subscribe to their YouTube channel.

And, of course, you can connect with SFA on Twitter and Instagram to see regular updates on their cashmere sustainability projects.


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