National Engagement Strategy (NES) Mongolia started the year by convening with other land actors to discuss the good practices of sustainable pasture management.
The Centre for Policy Research (CPR), an ILC Asia member and the host of NES Mongolia, organised a stakeholder meeting under the theme of “Model Districts with Sustainable Pastureland Management", focusing on an initiative being implemented in the Bayan-Ovoo district in eastern Mongolia. The meeting involved multiple stakeholders, which include members of NES Mongolia, Mercy Corps, XAC Bank, representatives of the meat processing industry, officials of the Bayan-Ovoo soum (rural administrative unit) and Bayan-Ovoo herders.
The meeting heard that in 2019, the pilot project resulted in 46 households in the district having reduced their herd size from 36,040 sheep units to 31,309, or by 12.2%. This was seen as a remarkable achievement considering the Mongolian Government's efforts to restrict the growth of herders have failed in recent years. For example, the Government's National Livestock Program set out a target of reducing country-wide herd size by 35 million in 2010, but as of 2018, its livestock population stood at 66.5 million instead. The numbers resulting from Bayan-Ovoo may be a long stretch when compared to the national target, but this policy dialogue between NES Mongolia members and government officials provides a learning opportunity towards achieving a bigger goal.
Minimising overgrazing for pasture regrowth
Mongolia's livestock industry for long has been a major economic activity and a social safety net for marginalised Mongolians, accounting for 10% of the country's GDP and 30% of employment. In recent years, however, climate change and overgrazing have led to sharply rising land degradation, posing a threat to the country's livestock industry. Largely open access regime has led to widespread environmental and social consequences - the rich expanding their grazing rights, mining companies grabbing pastureland and the poor herders losing their control of land. The overgrazing in Mongolia also stems from soaring global cashmere demand amid a lack of land-use regulations or pasture management standards.
The Government's attempt to address overgrazing has been reflected in its National Livestock Program, which policies include limiting the number of livestock to reflect the actual carrying capacity of the grasslands. The traditional mentality of keeping large herds is now on the brink of obsolescence. Harsh winter weather conditions have led to a mass death of livestock from lack of food and/or water, distressing the herders as they lose their main source of income.
Herders make a living by selling animal products — including meat, wool, and cashmere. D. Odonchimeg, a herder from Bayan-Ovoo acknowledged in the meeting the need for behavioural change in order to preserve pastureland. "To accomplish the herd size reduction target, we had to sell 63 sheep units. Recognising the importance of the pilot [project] and our responsibility to demonstrate and lead other herders, we worked hard and our total sales increased," she said.
The following are the incentive mechanisms used by CPR and other civil society organisations to minimise overgrazing:
- Pursue commitment of the local government by getting the ‘Sustainable Livestock Development’ program approved by the District Council
- Face-to-face awareness/capacity building training sessions enable herders to understand the benefits of environmentally-friendly income generation
- Agreement to reduce the size of pastureland use and herd size
- Livestock Risk Management Fund provided an essential financial source to facilitate livestock sales and other livestock-related activities
- Livestock procurement system was piloted to organize livestock sales through establishing a herders NGO; undertaking livestock quality examination and certification at the district centre and selling livestock to a contracted processor at premium prices –20% higher than local prices
- Eco soft loans - 12% annual interest rate loans against the existing interest rate of 24-30% provided an additional financial incentive for herders to reduce their herd size
Based on these findings, CPR encourages participants and other pastureland users to promote and replicate the Bayan-Ovoo District model that demonstrates how herders can voluntarily adopt environmentally-friendly income generation strategies when the right incentive mechanism is put in place. If herders and pastureland users commit to focusing on quality over quantity, it might eventually achieve the Government's current target to reduce country-wide herd size by 25 million sheep units.
Smaller herds will contribute to less greenhouse gas emissions, which essentially helps mitigate climate change. The livestock industry has been known as one of the leading contributors to global carbon emissions, through deforestation and the methane produced by the animals. Developing livestock production that is adaptable to climatic, environmental, and ecological changes with strengthened risk management capacity will remain an overarching principle of our members in Mongolia.
Story originally written by NES Mongolia and edited by ILC Asia