What’s better than conserving precious grasslands in Patagonia? How about actually improving them! That’s right. A new partnership in Argentina takes “sustainable grazing” one step further and aims to restore the condition of some of the region’s degraded grasslands.
When The Nature Conservancy came to Patagonia, it was because we knew how important the southern temperate grasslands of Argentina were. Not only to the plants and critters that live there, but for people there and around the world as well. Spanning an area of 240 million acres, these iconic grasslands are among the most threatened, most damaged and least protected habitats in the world.
Sheep ranching is one of the main economic activities in the region. Not surprisingly, it’s also the biggest threat to the grasslands as a result of overgrazing, subsequent land erosion and desertification.
The latest studies show that up to 70 percent of land in Patagonia suffers from some degree of erosion or desertification - of which, more than 30 percent has already been heavily degraded from its natural condition.
Desertification of these grasslands threatens not only ranchers and their livelihoods, but also the whole ecosystem. Patagonia is home to an amazing display of wildlife, like the guanaco, a relative of the llama; the rhea, a flightless bird similar to an ostrich; and the last large population of the massive Andean Condors.
Enter Argentine rancher network Ovis XXI and Patagonia Inc. clothing and outdoor company. We put our heads together and developed a groundbreaking partnership with the goal of reversing more than 100 years of overgrazing on 15 million acres of Patagonia’s grasslands.
As part of the deal, The Nature Conservancy is working closely with Ovis XXI’s wool producers to provide scientific expertise and monitoring to ranchers. Together, we introduced a new protocol that mimics natural grazing patterns for wildlife. So, rather than grazing sheep in one place continually, the sheep are moved in and out of different pastures depending on the conditions of the grasses, which encourages more diversity of native grass species and more ground coverage. When flock sizes, lands and streams are properly managed, then ranchers, sheep, native plants and animals can thrive together.
Patagonia Inc. contributes through a purchase agreement that encourages ranchers to raise and graze their sheep in a way that supports the long-term health of the grasslands, and is the first company to sign on and buy sustainable wool from the region. By providing a market incentive, we hope to encourage other ranchers across the region to adopt the sustainable grazing practices.
Beginning in 2013, every merino base layer style by Patagonia Inc., including all merino socks, will be made with wool sustainably sourced from the grasslands of Patagonia. This high-quality merino will be fully traceable back to ranches that are using the sustainable grazing practices (Learn more about GRASS), which includes conservation goals and land management protocols agreed upon by The Nature Conservancy and Ovis XXI.
Ranching on grasslands has shaped the economic and cultural development of Patagonia. “By partnering with the leading outdoor clothing company and working directly with ranchers, we will be able to continue the region’s ranching heritage in a way that supports both the local economy and the grasslands” says Patagonian Grasslands Conservation Project Manager Carlos Fernandez “With the new merino collection by Patagonia Inc., consumers around the world will have an opportunity to be a part of this new, sustainable future.”