Territorial Organization of Mongolian Pastoral Livestock Husbandry in the Transition to a Market Economy

Article excerpt

Errors and misconceptions abound about nomadic behavior in Mongolia. Mongolians organize the use of space in their own unique way. Their approach to herding is different from that of nomads or pastoralists in Europe or the United States. D. Barzagur, Chairman of Mongolia's Center of Nomadic Pastoralism Study. provides the facts, and discusses the contrasts among ancient herding traditions, the Socialist/Communist period, and the present transition to free-market conditions. Unfortunately, much knowledge and many older traditions are being lost during this process of change.

During the Communist era, from 1921 to 1991, Mongolian herders were organized into communist collectives. Today, the emphasis is for herding households to become independent, privately operating units. Treating households as individual units with private herds may be going too far, however. Herding households were never so individualistic as this even prior to the 1921 Revolution. In the pre-communist era, Mongolian herders formed collective units of ownership within which they were able to solve their own socio-economic problems cooperatively. Improving the living standard of herders and enabling them to remain "valley keepers"--careful custodians of their local environment--will require greater subtlety than simply opening this ancient system to "market forces."

The problems facing herders need to be addressed through multidisciplinary research that will lay the basis for a sustainable future. To date, privatization has been carried out without such detailed research. Because it is easier, the process has been limited to mechanical redistribution of the assets of pastoral collectives to existing herders and individual householders. The intended end result of the privatization program is that herders will operate as individual units, independent of each other. This runs counter to the herders' own interests, and would turn back the clock several centuries. This scientifically groundless direction of current policies could have serious consequences. Policy measures not in accordance with Mongolia's unique livestock farming traditions are inappropriate. It is important not to forget the lessons learned from earlier periods. A revolution does not mean that everything which existed before should be ignored. Research has been carried out to understand how Mongolian pastora l livestock husbandry could be reorganized, and this is described in this article. The present program of privatization also began without considering the question of territorial organization. This has paved the way for further policy mistakes. In this paper suggestions are made as to possible future directions for livestock development under a market economy, with a focus on territorial organization.

Policies made on the basis of theory alone, or following only brief, cursory, and irregular visits to the countryside, are at best empty hypotheses, at worst a formula for social, economic and ecological disaster. The many practical problems that exist for herders can only be resolved by means of careful, detailed research into the vital links among ecology, livestock and herders.

The thirty years under collectivization (1959-1989) was a period during which questions of ecologically appropriate territorial organization and land management were ignored or avoided. As a result, a substantial proportion of natural pasture was degraded, and traditional techniques of pastoralism were forgotten. Livestock development and management practices have become stagnant.

During our field research, it was found that when herders perceive a given course of action to be in their own best interest, they will not shy away from financial or other difficulties which need to be overcome in order to achieve it. The interests of herders themselves should therefore be the starting point for resolving problems in livestock development. …