Dramatic fall in nutritional standards in Mongolia


Dramatic fall in nutritional standards in Mongolia: chronic undernutrition in children on the rise

Grain production in Mongolia has fallen to less than half the level seven years ago and one quarter of the country's children are suffering from chronic undernutrition, an FAO mission reported in late October. Emergency food aid will be required to prevent widespread food shortages and hunger among vulnerable groups.

Mongolia: a herdswoman milks a horse. Transition has hit the livestock sector hard
The mission found that food production and nutrition have been seriously and adversely affected by the transition to a market economy and the end of technical and economic assistance from the former Soviet Union. Since 1990, cereal harvests in Mongolia have fallen by up to 70 percent, unemployment has increased, chronic child under-nutrition has risen to 25 percent and there is a "growing population of vulnerable, low income people who have been experiencing a dramatic fall in nutritional standards".

Before 1990, Mongolia - the most sparsely populated country in the world - produced enough cereals, mainly wheat, to meet its own needs and to export. The 1990 wheat harvest was 718 000 tonnes. In 1996, the harvest was down to 220 000 tonnes. "The decline is largely attributed to the break-up and sell-off of state farms..., high indebtedness, reduced access to credit, high interest rates, a critical shortage of inputs and operational farm machinery and poor husbandry practices" according to the Special Report issued by the assessment mission.

As a result, the country now produces only 60 percent of its cereal needs, and the most vulnerable sector of Mongolian society is facing a serious food shortage. The FAO Mission estimates a 90 000 tonne cereal deficit for the 1997/98 marketing year and recommends that 23 000 tonnes should be provided as emergency food aid for the 6 percent of the population classified as the absolute poor. The remaining 67 000 tonnes should be covered by programme food aid.

The livestock sector, which contributes 88 percent to gross agricultural production, has also been hard hit by transition. Because of a sharp drop in budgetary and service support, vital infrastructure such as wells is falling into disrepair, veterinary services have been cut back, fodder production has fallen and marketing systems are inadequate. "As the terms of trade turn against livestock, there is growing pressure to increase the number of animals per unit to make it viable," the Report says. "This has created many vulnerable households, whose capacity to absorb economic shocks has already been compromised."

Lack of money to fund agricultural imports and lack of credit for farmers has meant that for several years no fertilizer or insecticides have been used on the cereal crops. This, the deteriorating state of equipment and machinery and inadequate rainfall in the main agricultural area, all contributed to an all-time low for cereal production and yields in 1996.

The Mission estimates that cereal production rebounded 28 percent in 1997, but attributes these gains largely to improved rainfall. "The provision of credit and agricultural inputs remains a major problem which will have to be addressed if food production is to be restored in future," the report says. "The agriculture sector urgently needs large scale investments in machinery, chemcials, input supply and marketing channels and training and research programmes. Without such interventions, for the majority of farm companies and the country as a whole, the future of grain production looks bleak."

7 November 1997

GIEWS Special Report

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