The Effects of Livestock Privatization on Pastoral Land Use and Land Tenure in Post-Socialist Mongolia

By Fernandez-Gimenez, Maria E. | Nomadic Peoples, December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Effects of Livestock Privatization on Pastoral Land Use and Land Tenure in Post-Socialist Mongolia


Fernandez-Gimenez, Maria E., Nomadic Peoples


Introduction

Mongolian pastoralists differ from many pastoral peoples in their political, cultural and economic roles within their state. Pastoralists constitute 20-30 per cent of the total population of Mongolia (with some estimates suggesting they account for as much as 50 per cent), contribute significantly to the nation's GDP (over 30 per cent in 1996), and most belong to the dominant Khalkha Mongol cultural and ethnic group (MBDA and Tacis 1996). Mongolian pastoralists participate in a pastoral economy that has persisted, with apparent ecological and social sustainability, through several major political-economic transitions in the twentieth century. However, the shift in 1990 to a democratic form of government and the ongoing transition to a market economy once again call into question the future of herders' livelihoods and the resources on which they rely.

This paper examines how the recent privatisation of livestock and dismantling of socialist herding collectives have affected land-use patterns and property relations among Mongolia's nomadic pastoralists. Prior to privatisation, the state was an all-permeating presence in the pastoral livestock sector. By 1960, all herders were members of herding collectives (negdels), whose territory was contiguous with that of administrative districts (sums). The state, supported by massive subsidies from its Soviet neighbour, undertook a successful rural development campaign centred around the creation of district (sum) centres, which provided social and technical infrastructure to herders (Potkanski 1993), as well as serving as economic engines for rural development by providing consumer goods, services and secure employment to sum residents (Muller 1995). Herding collectives also played a key role in allocating pasture and regulating the seasonal movement of herds. In the process of privatisation, the main influence of the state on herders' livelihoods and herding patterns has been in its sudden and conspicuous absence after decades of dominating every facet of the pastoral economy.

Privatisation and the dismantling of collectives led to two major changes in the two districts studied: increasing differentiation between wealthy and poor households, and an influx of new herders to the countryside from settlements and cities. At the same time, the formal institutional structure for regulating pasture use, the collective, ceased to function. Common property theory proposes that as heterogeneity within a community of resource users increases, the likelihood of successful self-regulation of resource use declines, since the interests of community members diverge (Ostrom 1990) and opportunities for multiple interactions that lower the transaction costs of rule-making and enforcement decrease (Mearns 1996, Runge 1992, Taylor and Singleton 1993). Theory thus suggests that the rising heterogeneity in Mongolian herding communities due to increasing wealth differentiation and the influx of herders from towns and cities may influence the capacity of rural communities to organise pasture use among their own members (Mearns 1996). This paper uses data from a household survey conducted in two herding districts in Mongolia to explore how differences in wealth and migrant status affect access to resources, nomadic mobility, and patterns of resource use. Three general hypotheses were tested: (1) Access to productive resources differs among rich and poor herding households and new and old (migrant and long-time local) herding households; (2) differential access to productive resources affects herders' seasonal nomadic movements and resource-use behaviour; (3) new and old herders differ in norms of pasture use as reflected in their resource-use practices.

The first section of the paper provides the background to the study, describing broadly the ecological contexts and pastoral production system, including typical patterns of seasonal movement and pasture use norms.

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