Facilitating market access for yak herders in Mongolia
The general approach of the project focused on capacity development along the value chain for yak down and camel hair, including production, processing and manufacturing as well as international marketing in order to reach the upper market segment with higher quality products.
When the project started, the value chain for yak down and camel hair in Mongolia was inhibited by the insufficient volume of raw material and the low competitiveness of processors in comparison to China. The project worked along the entire value chain from nomadic herder families to the international market. This required thorough experience with the nomadic herder economy and the processing sector in Mongolia as well as knowledge of international marketing channels.
Direct market linkages between herder organizations and manufacturers were facilitated and strengthened by introducing match-making events as well as linkages from manufacturing companies to potential buyers through successful presentation on international fashion shows and fairs. The project promoted Mongolian yak down and baby camel wool as high quality sustainable materials in international markets. At the same time, it introduced several innovations in order to improve both the quality of the raw material and finished products. As a solid basis for the innovations to be adopted and become sustainable solutions, the project worked with all actors of the market system: herder organizations including user groups and their cooperatives and umbrella associations, the Mongolian Wool and Cashmere Association as a business organization of manufacturers, several government service entities, e.g. standardizing bodies or veterinary services, and universities.
Improved combing of yak down increased both the harvest and the quality of raw material obtained. The project imported appropriate combs not available in Mongolia, piloted affordable and portable combing fences as mechanical solutions for easier combing of the wild animals, and promoted sorting, packing and labeling for better traceability of raw material in order to improve value generation on the herders' side. The associations of pasture user groups and affiliated cooperatives were main facilitators of these activities.
Match-making events between herder cooperatives and buying manufacturers were one of the successful tools introduced by the project. Here, supply and demand are matched in a one-day event, organized like 'speed dating'. The events also serve fostering better relationships and communication between herders and manufacturers. This practice is now widely accepted and will be co-hosted by national level associations of herders and manufacturers in the future.
Another line of project interventions targeted manufacturers. There are some medium-sized companies in Mongolia that manufacture cashmere, sheep wool and yak down garments and other items. The project supported their capacity development in terms of designing fashion collections for international markets, presenting collections at those markets and facilitating the establishment of a national size standard that is in line with international clothing sizes. In 2016 and 2017, the project coached participating manufacturing companies through the participation in international fashion shows or exhibitions such as the Green Showroom in Berlin or INNATEX in Frankfurt, and facilitated sales of around € 100,000 to Central European institutional buyers.
Other interventions targeted the development of baby camel wool as a more sustainable alternative to cashmere. Camels graze in a more sustainable way than cashmere goats because they spare the roots of grass, whereas goats eat these, too, and therefore accelerate desertification. Combed camel calf wool had not been used until then and the project facilitated testing of this fiber. the project team of experts also ran several pilots to determine how this fiber needs to be further processed to become attractive for the market. This entailed washing technology of raw material, dyeing of baby camel wool, and marketing. The interest of customers at fashion shows indicate that this material has a potential to become a popular high quality fiber as it combined softness and sustainability.
Because of the successes in the natural fiber sector, SDC extended the mandate of the consortium to cover the meat and leather value chains as well. In this context, the project piloted the establishment of a premium meat value chain in order to show that high quality, safe meat can generate higher prices.
All project activities were based on the understanding that they will be continued and paid by market actors in the future and, therefore, become sustainable. Cost-sharing arrangements and shared implementation of activities was a key factor to facilitate this approach.