FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT No.303 :
MONGOLIA

Date: 10 March 2000

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

CONCERNS MOUNT OVER SERIOUS FOOD SHORTAGES IN MONGOLIA FOLLOWING THE HARSHEST WINTER IN 30 YEARS

The worst winter weather in thirty years has reportedly killed several hundred thousand livestock, seriously threatening the livelihood and food security of up to a quarter of the population of 2.7 million people, who depend entirely on animal rearing. Official reports indicate that as many as 1.5 million livestock have already died and many more are likely to be lost in the coming weeks as harsh conditions persist. The worst affected areas are in central, western and north-western parts where 142 of the country's 360 counties are located. Areas that have been particularly hard hit include Dundgobi, Ovorkhangai, Uvs, Zavkhanto and Bayankhongor.

The livestock sector plays an extremely important part in the Mongolian economy providing the main source of household income, for many, and contributing a major source of foreign exchange. In addition, given vast distances and the lack of access to alternative food sources, animals also play a vital role in household food security, providing essential nutritional needs through meat and milk. Available estimates indicate that normally animals provide around 92 kg of meat and 130 kg of milk-products per caput annually. Large losses, therefore, will have direct and severe impact on household food security of large numbers of herders, especially those in remote inaccessible areas. Nutritional problems, are likely to be compounded by problems of access to basic medical assistance as transport systems remain highly constrained by the lack of horses.

The food situation, amongst vulnerable groups including women and children, could deteriorate appreciably in the next few months particularly as essential winter food reserves of dried meat milk and dairy products, become depleted. Already there is evidence of the most vulnerable sectors of the nomadic population migrating to towns in search of employment. This will exacerbate existing food supply problems in some areas, which have developed over the last 10 years, due to general economic problems.

As thousands of hectares of pastures remain buried under heavy snow, there is urgent need to provide surviving animals with supplementary feed. However, the Government's capacity to do so is highly constrained due to limited resources, its declining role in agriculture and the lack of contingency stocks of feed and food. The problem of feed supply is being exacerbated by transport constraints and the repercussions of a serious drought last crop season which reduced the quality of pastures and production of hay, which is normally reserved for feed during critical winter months. Consequently even before the current crisis, the health of large numbers of livestock was already poor.

The current food emergency, follows several years in which nutritional standards having been falling due to significant changes in economic circumstance of large sectors of the population as the economy has been reoriented from one which was centrally planned to one which is market driven. This in particular has left many groups who were formally dependent on state employment and welfare exposed to economic uncertanties due to limited alternative earning potential. Various reports in the mid 1990s indicated that those most affected by poverty and food insecurity, included the unemployed, the elderly, female headed households, children, pensioners and small herders.

The Government of Mongolia has appealed for international assistance, including food, clothes, medicines, and fodder for the surviving livestock.

Agricultural Background:

Mongolia has an area of approximately 1.6 million square kilometers and a population of some 2.7 million people making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Almost half the population live in rural areas, of which 50 percent are pastoralists, who produce around 86 percent of gross agricultural output. The area under pasture is vast though fragile and supports an estimated population of around 30 million animals. A severe, continental climate, extremely large distances and a nomadic system, which has expanded dramatically since the break-up of state livestock farms, make the provision of services to the livestock sector very difficult. Overall cereal production has declined progressively, as farmers have experienced serious problems in securing adequate loans from banks to buy machinery, seeds and fertilizers. Many also lacked managerial skills to operate enterprises. As a result, the area under cultivation, yields per hectare and overall production have decreased appreciably. Current estimates indicate that the area under wheat, the main staple, declined from 498 000 hectares in 1993 to around 273 000 hectares in 1999, whilst production, in the same period, declined from 450 000 tonnes to 190 000 tonnes.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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