Baby mountain yak wool insulates livelihoods in Mongolia


Bayarmagnai Batsuuri lives with his wife and two children in the mountains of central Mongolia. The Batsuuri family resides in the Erdenebulgan district of the Arkhangai province: a herder's paradise, with grazing land covering more than 70 percent of the province. The area is part of the Khangai Mountains, which reach heights of more than 3 600 metres. As of 2018, about 72 percent of the province's gross domestic product came from the agricultural sector, and more than 66 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture.

Bayarmagnai takes care of his family through herding, following the tradition of his ancestors. He has lived among herders his entire life, and the harsh lifestyle comes naturally to him as he is used to living with enormous amounts of snow in the winter and drought in the summer.

Bayarmagnai is the director of a local herders' cooperative called "Ar Arvijin Delgerekh." By forming the Ar Arvijin Delgerekh cooperative, herders aimed to increase their incomes, engage in local production, and promote yak wool at both national and international level.

Since its founding in 2010, the cooperative has engaged in the production and sale of yak products. It includes 238 members – 122 of whom are women – of 88 herder families who come from various districts of Arkhangai. The herders, primarily of the Khalkh people, follow nomadic traditions and earn income from yak wool, dairy products, meat, leather, sheep wool and cashmere. Their yak wool products are certified chemical-free and symbolize the Mongolian herders' nomadic culture.

The yak is a long-haired, ox-like mammal that lives in Mongolia in the high Altai Mountain range, the Khangai Mountain range and the Kharkhiraa and Khuvsgul mountains. Yaks yield a high amount of quality meat, milk, leather and wool, and have both environmental and economic benefits. Yaks in Mongolia are used for transport, meat, milk and, of course, their wool, which helps them withstand the harsh cold of the high mountains. Yaks graze in high mountain areas and are more favourable for sustainable grazing than other livestock breeds because they rarely fall victim to predators, they cause less trampling damage than sheep or goats, and they graze without harming plants' roots while fertilizing the soil. Additionally, the local communities can use the yaks' manure as fuel for fire.

Yak wool is proven to be of the same quality as goat cashmere, and it has many comparative advantages: it does not shrink or stretch when washing, it maintains heat well, it is hypoallergenic and it is less expensive than other types of wool. The coop has performed laboratory analyses to guarantee the high quality of their yak wool.

Since 2016, the Ar Arvijin Delgerekh cooperative has been responsible for the primary processing of the yak wool. The wool is retrieved by hobbling a standing yak and combing. Thus, there are no negative impacts on the baby yaks. The member herders supply raw wool to the workshop, where they process about five tonnes each year. They knit, wash and iron the wool – a careful process that adds value to their product. With the help of various projects and NGOs in the Arkhangai province, the coop members were able to revolutionize their processing method of the yak wool. Many trainings about combing were organized and now most of the herders in Arkhangai use this method. In the past, yak wool was prepared using a cutting method; after the coop changed their processing to the combing method, the value of the wool increased by about 1 000 percent (from 0.5 USD to between 5-6 USD).

The coop is also active on Facebook as a digital means of introducing their products to the market. Recently the coop also successfully expanded its reach and is now exporting yak wool to Europe.

A new step taken by the cooperative this year is forming an alliance with the Mountain Partnership Products initiative to boost the marketing and production of their baby yak wool. The wool comes from two-year-old calves, making it softer and warmer than other wool. The product provides better insulation than even sheep's cashmere yet is still economically priced. Joining forces with the Mountain Partnership provides an opportunity for the Ar Arvijin Delgerekh to boost the marketing and value chain of their little-known but highly valuable yak wool products.

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News by Undrakh Banzragch

Photo by Ar Arvijin Delgerekh cooperative

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