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April 2007

Announcement of a publication

Managing pastoral risk in Mongolia

A plan of action

Project TCP/FAO/MON 0066

Mongolian herding is a highly successful livelihood system, but has always involved weather-related risks. The most obvious risks come from periodic snow disasters (zud), which cause heavy animal and human mortality, although drought, fire and other risks have a similar impact.

In recent years, Mongolia’s pastoral system has been subject to significantly increased levels of variability and risk from environmental, economic and social causes. This is due to the combination of a severe, continental climate, extremely large distances, 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, including winter support and social security safety nets.

Risk management strategies, which were operational in Mongolia before its transition to market economy, have completely collapsed under the changed conditions of a free market economy beginning 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.

The frequency of major snow disasters is estimated nationally at around once every ten years, although for some provinces the risk is more frequent, perhaps once every five to seven years. However major snow disaster with catastrophic impacts occurred more frequently during the last 10 years. 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 have been killed in two subsequent bad winters. The livelihood and food security of up to one-quarter of Mongolia’s population who depend entirely on animal rearing are seriously threatened.

However, there was no pastoral risk management policy and strategy enacted by the government since its transition to market economy. Herders’ risks were only addressed incidentally and partially. The Ministry of Agriculture recognised that dealing with risk is the main problem for Mongolian herders under the changed market conditions, and that failure to deal with risk could jeopardise all progress in rural development and poverty alleviation. As a result, the Ministry gave 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 new national strategy, consolidated risk management plans at lower institutional levels were urgently needed, building on tested new strategies for improved risk preparedness, mitigation and recovery after calamities. Strategies should be adapted to and operational under the changed conditions in Mongolia. The Government of Mongolia 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.

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