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II. Causes and Characteristics of Poverty

2.1 Causes of Poverty
2.2 Who are the poor?
2.3 Dimensions of Poverty

2.1 Causes of Poverty

1. Lack of knowledge and good skills in herding was widely given as a main cause of poverty. This was often mentioned in conjunction with laziness, although not always. Lack of good skills was often a cause related to life-cycle stage of a household, and a problem particularly associated with young herders beginning their herding career, and those who had not been herders during the negdel period. These were not necessarily seen to be lazy people.

2. Another reason given as a cause of poverty was the distribution of animals at privatisation and the receipt of only a small number; insufficient for effective, self-sufficient herding. This was mostly experienced by those in government service, who were not herders within the negdel and had limited eligability for animals. Another significant factor related to number of animals held after transitions is the general wealth of the household during the negdel period. Some animals were privately owned by negdel workers and so these households began with larger herds after the privatisation process, and thus were in a better starting position. Some households also found themselves in debt to the negdel at the time of privatisation and lost their share of privatised animals in repayment, and this they identified as a cause of their poverty. An historical profile of the poor in bag II supports the explanation that those beginning the transition period with few animals have largely been unable to build up the herds since. Their livestock numbers have continued to deplete primarily due to the need to sell or exchange animals (usually sheep) for necessary items, such as flour, rice, clothing, cash, etc. The lack of available cash to purchase these things and the reliance on traders who give poor rates, was identified as a main problem by many herders. Herders with no supplementary skills, e.g, carpentry, saddle making, boot making, etc., were seen as particularly vulnerable to herd depletion.

3 The most noteable cause of intractable poverty identified by the majority, both in interviews and the training, was ‘laziness’. This is characterised as having low interest in a good life, passivity, lack of motivation and initiative, low interlect, dependency thinking, reliance on assistance from others, and lack of life skills (to plan and organise their life), bad training and care of children by parents. It was felt by some participants in the workshop that laziness should be dealt with through education. The overall feeling was that these types of people are ‘no hopers’ and in need of some form of assistance to survive; they do not have the ability and life skills to manage alone. The wealth ranking exercise also identified drunkards who squandered their animals within the category of lazy and poor.

4. Another cause of poverty related to life-cycle stage was identified as the traditional inheritance practice of providing animals to sons (and also daughters) at marriage, thus reducing the stock of the parents.

5. The lack of employment elsewhere and immigration of people without assets into the sum was also seen as a cause of poverty in the area.

6. The risk of natural disasters, such as dzud, was seen to be a threat to all herders and could cause people to become poor.

7. The lack of a livestock insurance system was also regarded as a cause of poverty by some people.

2.2 Who are the poor?

The poor are identified by herders according to different criteria:

The poor are seen as people who have a limited herd size and composition, inadequate for self-sufficiency. This depends on the number of bod owned, i.e., yaks, cows and horses, due to their productivity in dairy products. Sheep are given lesser productive value, although goats providing cashmere are valuable. Such households are extremely vulnerable to risk, e.g., dzud, and hence rapid decline into poverty. They need support from others to survive and lack cash income to acquire basic needs, such as flour, clothes, etc. They may also lack sufficient labour, e.g., in a female-headed household. Their security depends largely on the type of support system they are part of. For example, a female-headed household with 50 sheep and 5 milking cows was considered poor by others (in wealth ranking exercise) because of the lack of labour. Although the woman part of a surpportive kin khot ail who shared labour tasks, she also categorized herself as poor because she felt that her animals were insufficient for subsistence. Lack of labour, however, was not felt to be a major problem since it could be provided through khot ail relations.

The poorest amongst the poor are identified as those who are lazy and hopeless, and unable to help themselves. They have very few animals, lack the interest and skills necessary for herding. It was mentioned that they may be from poor families or kin groups, such that their poverty and sense of dependency is inherited. A significant feature is large households with many dependent children. These poorest people may also include the elderly who lack animals and kinship support.

However, criteria for the very poor also includes people who are largely found in the sum centre. These are people with skills and education but due to difficult circumstances are unable to find employment or sources of income. They may be people who have migrated to the sum from another area without animals, or those who lost a job in transition.

The main criteria identified for households to be comfortable or rich were sufficient number of animals, estimated at around 20 bod and above, and herd diversification with high numbers of mostly cows/yaks. Good herding skills, hard working, sufficient labour and available cash for necessary purchases were also seen as essential.

2.3 Dimensions of Poverty

The interviews with bag governors and herders indicate that there is an increasing tendency towards poverty in the countryside.

For example, an historical profile in bag II shows that the number of poor has been progressively rising:

1992: 20 poor housesholds

1994: 26

1995: 30

(out of 285 households, 100 of which are in the sum centre).
A similar historical profile done by the governor of bag V, indicated that those who were poor at transition have remained poor - none had been able to climb out of poverty in the 5 year period from 1990-1995 - and that the situation of others who were not poor then, has deteriorated since.

Through the interviews and a mapping exercise in the workshop, it was also evident that the majority of the poor in Chuluut live in rural areas, e.g., bag V has 129 households, 26 are identified as poor, and only 3 of these are in the sum centre. In bag III there are 172 households, 42 of which were identified to be poor and 12 of which live in the sum centre (see Appendix 5). During the winter season some migrate (particularly the elderly) to the sum centre due to the cold and to care for children attending school, and then return to the countryside the following summer. However, strong resistance was expressed by one poor household at the suggestion (by another herder) that they should move to the sum centre to work.

There appear to be several support mechanisms which allow poor herders to remain in the countryside:

Poor households are supported within khotails of close kin, on a basis of mutual exchange of labour and material support. These households may have only a few animals but the security of kin support is sufficient to protect them from adverse risk and sudden deterioration. Such khotails tend to be stable units throught the year, remaining together at seasonal migrations.

The more vulnerable poor households are those which do not have the security of a kin-based khotail. They may be part of a temporary or unrelated khotail, with whom they stay for part of the year, moving to join or form another at seasonal migration. In this situation the degree of support provided to them by the richer households in the khotail is much lower. One such herder on the list of poor (5 members with 5 cows, 5 horses and 20 sheep) informed us that they received very little support from the 6 other unrelated households in his khotail, many of which were in fact as poor as his. Only one household was seen to be better off than the others, and this was also on the official list of poor. Only in moving did they share the assets of others, i.e., bullock carts. They received no official support from the sum or bag, other than some handouts of flour. When asked about support from richer households, they said that the poor could live within a richer khotail but that making this arrangement was difficult, and that it only really happened within kin. They were very much left to their own devices to survive. This raises the question of whether there is a tendency for poor households to form groups or knot ails?

Another mechanism of ‘support’ identified was the traditional and somewhat exploitative practice of poor households herding male sheep and goats for other herders. These are known locally as khuts ukhna khariulakh. Two households were found to be doing this, in isolation from other khotails, in order to keep the male animals separate from female herds. During the summer months they herd the animals and in return, in the autumn they receive one young animal for every male herded. The condition and sex of the young given is dependent on the will of the richer herder, such that they may receive all male young, making it impossible to breed within their own animals. The condition of the animals is also critical, determining whether they are able to survive the harsh winter and spring. Thus, the system benefits the richer households far more than it does the poor herder. Asked about this issue a richer herder replied that the khuts ukhna khariulakh households will have to slaughter almost all of the animals received as payment in order to survive the winter. He estimated the figure of three animals which might be left after winter. Even if this custom of herding would be repeated for two more years - 3 years of this kind of support is maximum according to traditions - the final animal number would by no means be sufficient to provide a basis for subsistence to the households concerned. The interviewed poor khuts ukhna khariulakh household, however, strongly stressed his will to try everything to avoid a move into the sum centre.

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