Field projects


Pastoral Risk Management Strategy

Although mainly backstopped by SDAR there is a key haymaking component that is backstopped by the Grassland Group of AGPC.


Mongolian herding has been successful for thousands of years, but it has always involved weather-related risks. The most obvious risks come from periodic snow disasters (zud), which cause heavy animal and human mortality. However, in recent years, due to the combination of a severe, continental climate, extremely large distances and a nomadic system which has expanded dramatically since the break-up of the state farms and livestock collectives, and deteriorating services to the livestock sector, Mongolia’s pastoral system is subject to significantly increasing high levels of variability and risk from environmental, economic and social causes.

Snow storms killed an estimated 100 000 animals in May 1993, and in June 1995 heavy rain killed 60 000  recently-shorn sheep in a single night, impoverishing large numbers of herding households. The winter of 1999/2000 was the worst in thirty years and has reportedly killed two million livestock and many more are likely to be lost before the summer rains. The livelihood and food security of up to one- quarter of Mongolia’s population who depend entirely on animal rearing are seriously threatened.

[during the winter of 2000/20001 snow storms were even more devastating]

In addition to their direct impact, snow and other disasters undermine rural development strategies, and are a major cause of rural and urban poverty. Rural development will have to start afresh every few years if preparedness and management of such disasters are not improved. When household herds fall to below the minimum viable level, as a result of one or other type of risk, the household has to rely on support from relatives and neighbours. Where this is not available, for example because others are also poor, or because they all have lost animals in the same risk episode, households rarely have any other option but to move to bag (sub-district) and sum (district) centres where they remain destitute. Likewise poverty alleviation can only deal with symptoms until key risks are brought under control.

Risk management strategies, which were operational in Mongolia before its transition to market economy, have completely collapsed under the changed conditions of free market economy. During the collective period, roughly 1950-1990, the state organized herding management and made provision for those affected by bad weather and other misfortunes. With the disbanding of the collectives the associated welfare provisions were also removed. Traditional collaboration and risk-avoidance techniques had been severely weakened during that forty-year period. Since the start of economic liberalisation in 1990, market, social and some environmental risks to herders have substantially increased due to reduced support from central government to the countryside, and an explicit shifting of many risks from the public sector to herders.

However, there is no pastoral risk management policy and strategy enacted by the government since its transition to market economy. Herders’ risks are currently only addressed incidentally and partially. Key activities, such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Industry’s programmes on development of emergency grazing areas and fodder supplies, the Ministry of Nature and Environment’s national weather forecasting system and the national Poverty Alleviation Programme (NPAP), are barely co-ordinated. The NPAP itself scarcely deals with poverty or risk management among herders. Co-ordinated risk management plans at national, provincial or district level between participants are inexistent. The development of the pastoral economy is regularly threatened by periodic major setbacks caused by natural and other disasters, and investments made by herders, the government and donors risk being lost; at each event, some rural households will be precipitated into greater poverty.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Industry recognises that dealing with risk is the main problem in the Mongolian pastoral economy, and that failure to deal with risk could jeopardise all progress in rural development and poverty alleviation. Risk also jeopardises major investments by government and donors. For example, IFAD and the Mongolian Government are investing US$5 million in Arkhangay and Khuvsgul provinces, principally by restocking poor herders; other donors have similar restocking programmes in other provinces. A single major snow disaster could not only threaten the success of these initiatives, but could wipe out the investments already made. These two provinces were partly spared in the 1999/2000 zud, although some provinces restocked by the Save the Children Fund (SCF) were severely hit. The occurrence of the 1999/2000 snow disaster and the limited ability of Mongolian authorities to prevent or mitigate the damage caused by the disaster underscores the outstanding importance of improved risk management strategies and plans in Mongolia as a means to secure herder livelihoods and food security. As a result, the Ministry gives the highest priority to the development of a co-ordinated national pastoral risk management strategy, linked to national poverty alleviation efforts.

As a pre-requisite for a national strategy, consolidated risk management plans at lower institutional levels are urgently needed, building on pre-tested new strategies for improved risk preparedness, mitigation and recovery after calamities. Strategies must be adapted to and operational under the changed socio-political and economic conditions in Mongolia after transition to market economy (A good example for the required type of technology adaptation and testing is, for instance, haymaking, a collective activity dealt with by special brigades, often highly mechanised, but which dropped off sharply after state subsidies ceased in 1990. In suitable areas, however, there is now interest in developing simple, herder-based haymaking, probably using draught animals, to provide some winter feed for weak and pregnant stock) .

The GOM therefore requested FAO assistance through the TCP programme in preparing risk management plans for selected pilot provinces, and pilot testing key components of the plans at field level, as a model of what can be done in the country as a whole. Through its focus on long-term strategic planning for improved disaster preparedness and management among pastoral herds, the project will build on and complement the emergency support initiated by FAO and other donors as a response to the 1999/2000 snow disaster and relief request of Mongolia. The TCP project results will also be of great value for the IFAD-funded Poverty Alleviation Programme in Arkhangay and Khuvsgul and the World Bank-funded "Sustainable livelihood project" which is expected to become operational in 2001. Both programmes have expressed a strong need for and interest in building on a pastoral risk management strategy, but emphasised, however, that they do not have the mandate to elaborate a risk management strategy themselves. The TCP project results will also be of use to the ADB Agricultural Sector Programme, which is concerned with rural risk.

The government is committed to pastoral risk management as a key element of national rural development policy, and wishes as a matter of priority to prepare and implement - based on the outputs of the TCP project which aims at provincial pilot risk management plans - an overall national pastoral risk management plan. The implementation of provincial and national risk management strategies and plans will significantly help to reduce the risk of future losses from environmental hazards, which are part of the natural conditions in Mongolia and which can be expected to occur regularly.


To improve and sustain the livelihood and food security of pastoral herders in three provinces (chosen to reflect different levels of risk, different ecological conditions and different experience of restocking shemes) and increase national, provincial and local institutional capacities and planning procedures for co-ordinated risk and disaster management in pastoral areas through:

  • development of co-ordinated and integrated pastoral risk management strategies and plans, with a focus on improving the preparedness of all stakeholders to counteract and mitigate the detriment of environmental risks in the selected provinces; plans will be developed with appropriate links to central government activities, taking account of and linked to all relevant ongoing initiatives at central and local level, and herders’ own perceptions and capabilities;
  • pilot testing of selected key strategies for risk management in the three pilot provinces which show a high potential to secure herders’ livelihoods and increase resilience against risk and disaster, and propose a process for expanding such strategies into provincial and national plans, including possibilities for donor support.


The project envisages the following main outputs

1.1 Consolidated pastoral risk management plans for the three pilot provinces prepared and agreed upon with provincial and district government authorities in November 2001. The plans will give particular emphasis on strategies supportive to:

a) reducing negative impact of environmental calamities on herds, flocks and families;

b) operating a quick and effective response when a calamity or shock strikes the country;

c) re-habilitating livelihoods to normal levels after a calamity or shock.

1.2 National project counterpart staff and herders’ representatives trained in developing, co-ordinating and implementing management plans.

2.1 Selected key strategies for risk management pilot-tested by selected herding communities. Strategies will include:

  • improved hay making;
  • decentralized emergency fodder reserves/funds or standing hay managed and operated by herders’ groups themselves;
  • weather forecasting with better outreach to pastoral households;
  • other possible strategies to be identified during participatory field work.

2.2 Selected herders trained in the application of new, pilot-tested risk management strategies.

2.3 Improved collaboration mechanisms established between herders, herder’s groups and local governments regarding risk management related tasks.

2.4 Guidelines for broader use of pilot-tested strategies elaborated by January 2001.

2.5 A study on options for improved access and modalities of insurance and savings services to herders conducted, reviewed and results integrated into risk management plans as appropriate.


Project implementation was delayed from 2000 to 2001 and the first missions were undertaken in the period May - September 2001. A number of local contracts were initiated and reports submitted including those on the status of haymaking and storage and haymaking potentials in target sums of Uvs and Tuv aimags. Further missions were undertaken in the summer season of 2002, another mission took place in December 2002 and the project was extended into the first quarter of 2003.

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Haymaking in Tuvs aimag.
Photo by J.M. Suttie

Sampling a hayfield.
Photo by J.M. Suttie

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In the project area - sheep and goats at milking time.
Photo by J.M. Suttie

5. MAIN OUTPUTS AND RESULTS (of the Haymaking Component)

In the considerable gap between the finalisation of the project document and its becoming operational the Government adopted important decisions on a strategy for dealing with drought and zud (Resolutions of the Government of Mongolia # 47 and 48 of 13 March 2001); project activities were redesigned to fit in with and provide inputs to the "National Programme on assisting the protection of livestock from drought and zud (a term covering various types of weather-related disaster - associated with winter precipitation, usually too much or too little snow and/or very low temperatures)" of March 2001. The project area was redefined to take in areas in the west and central zones.

It very soon became clear that the main key to winter survival of livestock is having them in as good condition as possible, adequately fat, by the onset of winter. Herd survival and herders' risk avoidance is not a seasonal activity, it depends on proper grazing management throughout the year. Grazing management principles are well known in Mongolia but, since the early nineteen-nineties, have been largely ignored. Preparation of stock for winter is not only an autumnal activity, it depends on proper herd and grazing management throughout the year. Proper seasonal use (and protection) of pastures is the key to good grazing management.

A system of estimating overwinter carrying capacity, suitable for use by local staff working with experienced herders, which takes into account livestock condition and general herders' preparedness was developed in conjunction with the High Mountain Research Centre, tested in the pilot aimags and thereafter demonstrated in the pilot sums. Even when good grazing management is practiced, however, herders have still no protection from trespass which is probably their most serious year-long problem.

Grazing reserves are potentially important for risk avoidance in severe winters but many traditional areas have been neglected in recent years. A survey by the Research Institute for Animal Husbandry, under the auspices of the project, found that there are vast tracts undergrazed or not used, especially in outlying areas. In many cases there is now a lack of infrastructure, especially water supplies; such areas can be developed for winter emergency and probably routine use.

The varied conditions of the pilot aimags showed that herder haymaking is very much limited by the availability and location of suitable land. In forest-steppe conditions, where much of the earlier FAO work with herders was carried out, several factors combine to make it suitable: there are many meadows in the mountain landscape; winter and summer camps are usually no more than a few kilometres apart so herders do not have to travel long distances to make hay nor does it have to be carried far for use; animal traction is traditional since herders use ox-carts. Haymaking with horse-drawn equipment is spreading in this zone. In Uvs, however, there is little or no rainfed hay land, winter camps are far from potential haymaking areas and animal traction is unknown (baggage being moved by pack-train). There is some excellent irrigated hay land and swamp hay can be made near the lake, but cannot be mechanised; much is made by settled people from sum headquarters. In Zamaar nearly all the hay land is harvested by commercial companies for sale elsewhere. Many of the drier parts of Mongolia have little or no haymaking potential so the initial enthusiasm for hay as an emergency reserve is slackening. Suitable horse-drawn equipment is no longer widely available but sources have been identified in China.

Hay is not a very suitable commodity for constituting an emergency fodder fund since it is generally of low feeding value, has a short storage life and is bulky to store and expensive to transport per feed unit. While hay will be used at herder and bag level, and perhaps at sum level, cereals and concentrates are probably more suitable for aimag reserves. The weakness of hay as a reserve feed in drought years was well demonstrated in 2002 - haymaking was impossible in many places and even in the commercial zones of the North harvest stopped very early for lack of herbage.