No.4  November 2006  
   Crop Prospects and Food Situation

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Food Emergencies Update

Global cereal supply and demand brief

Low-Income Food-Deficit Country food situation overview

Regional reviews

Special features

Statistical Appendix

Terminology and Notes

Special features

Mongolia Food Supply and Security Situation


At the request of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Mongolia, a UN Joint Mission comprising FAO, UNICEF and UNDP visited the country from 2 to 20 October 2006 to undertake a rapid assessment of the food security situation.

The overall economic context for food security is favourable, with the economy growing at a steady rate since 2004 and mining exports soaring supported by record prices of minerals.
The agriculture sector, based on a traditional nomadic pastoral system, remains an important component of the national economy, comprising about 22 percent of GDP, employing 40 percent of the total labour force and accounting for 44 percent of the total exports. The population of Mongolia was estimated at 2.562 million inhabitants in 2005. The country has experienced a rapid urbanization process in recent years, with rural population declining from 2001 to 2005 and that of the capital city growing at an annual average rate of 4.5 percent.
By 2005, 60 percent of the population was considered urban including people living in Ulaanbaatar and in the provincial capitals. Rural population includes nomadic herders and farmers (two-thirds of the rural population) and people living in the district capitals.

High levels of self-consumption in rural areas


Flour, meat and milk products are the main food staples of Mongolia. According to estimations made in the framework of the “Household Income and Expenditure Survey/Living Standards Measurement Survey 2002/03”, these three products cover some 86 percent of the average daily caloric intake. Although consumption of animal products is among the highest in the world, cereals are the main source of energy providing some 55 percent of the daily intake. Despite rapid increases in consumption of potatoes, vegetables and fruits in recent years, particularly in urban areas, the diet of Mongolians remains deficient in these products.
There are marked disparities in the consumption patterns between rural and urban populations. Nomadic families consumed a wide range of customary meat and milk products (there are over 500 different dairy products) which are prepared and stored in the household using traditional processing techniques. Based on self-production, rural people consume in average three to five times more milk and dairy products than people in the cities, about 50 percent more meat products and only slightly less flour products. Consequently, the average daily calorie intake in rural areas is estimated to be some 15 percent higher than in urban areas. By contrast, consumption of potatoes and vegetables in rural areas is only one-third to one-half than that in the cities.

Production of main food staples recovering in past years


Wheat is the main crop in Mongolia. Production has declined steadily since 1990 following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of massive government subsidies. As a result, commercial imports and food aid of wheat and wheat flour have increased (Figure 7).
In the past five years, domestic wheat output has met in average 40 percent of the consumption requirements.

As a result of severe drought during the 2005 cropping season, Mongolia gathered only 74 000 tonnes of wheat, the lowest crop on record, and imported an estimated 251 000 tonnes in 2005/06 marketing year (October/September). Production recovered this year
mainly reflecting favourable weather in the major growing areas. The Mission visited the
North-Central growing provinces of Selenge, Bulkan, Tov and Darkhan-Uul, where yields have been reportedly double the levels of last year. The 2006 output is tentatively estimated at 145 000 tonnes and is expected to cover 45 percent of the consumption needs in marketing year 2006/07. The import requirement, including commercial import and food aid in 2006/07
is expected to decrease to 230 000 tonnes.

Crop Prospects and Food Situation preview


The livestock sector suffered successive harsh winters (Dzud in local language) and summer droughts from 1999-2002 which caused the loss of about 10 million camels, horses, cattle, sheep and goats, or some 30 percent of the total livestock numbers, prompting migration to the cities of large section of the rural population. The sector has recovered since 2004 and preliminary estimates point to numbers of animals in 2006 similar to the 1999 record levels. This is the result of successive years of favourable weather conditions, investments in response to improved returns for animal products as well as low animal take-off.
It is worth noting, however, that in bod1 terms the number of animals is some 30 percent lower than in 1999, mainly due to the increasing share of goats in the total, which has given rise for concern about pressure on pasture resources. (Table12).

The country is self-sufficient in meat and has an exportable surplus. Following the sharp decline from 2001 to 2003, production of meat has recovered in the past two years, but by 2005 still remained 38 percent below the level of 2000 and exports are very limited.
This mainly reflects herder’s risk minimization strategies, aiming to build up animal numbers
to pre-1999 figures, but also changes in the herd composition in terms of size (larger number of small animals).

Mongolia used to be self-sufficient in milk in the socialist period. Similar to the rest of the food sector, the dairy industry collapsed during the abrupt transition from State to private ownership in the early 1990s. The decline of the national herd in 2000-2002 resulted in the plummeting of the milk production and the import of almost all the milk and milk products sold in urban markets. Total milk production has been recovering markedly since then and by 2005 production of milk was only 10 percent lower than in 2000. While most of the processed milk is still imported, due to the limited connection between producers and urban consumers, the formal milk and dairy sub-sector is also reviving and the component of domestic produced milk in the milk industry has increased from some 3 percent in 2003 to about 7 percent in 2005.

Table 12. Mongolia: livestock numbers, output and trade
of animal products











Livestock numbers ( 000 head )













1 985

2 262

3 163

2 661

2 192

1 989

1 969

2 005

2 029


2 397

2 849

3 825

3 098

2 070

1 884

1 793

1 841

1 964


14 231

15 083

15 191

13 876

11 937

10 637

10 756

11 687

12 885


4 567

5 126

11 034

10 270

9 591

9 135

10 653

12 238

13 267


23 771

25 857

33 569

30 227

26 075

23 898

25 428

28 028

30 399

Total in bod* equivalent ( 000 head )

8 208

9 067

11 430

9 837

7 876

7 165

7 270

7 707

8 193

Livestock output ( 000 tonnes slaughter weight )


Total Meat




















Mutton and goat




















Eggs ( million units)










Trade of main livestock products


Milk Powder imports ( tonnes)


1 038



1 385





Meat exports ( 000 tonnes)










Intestine exporte ( 000 rolls)


2 164

1 025







Edible meat offal Export ( tonnes)



3 151


3 430

1 629




*See footnote one of text.
Source: Joint FAO/UNICEF/UNDP Mission Report.

Availability of foodstuffs in the markets is good and prices are stable (except for meat)


Markets in Mongolia have a particular importance for access to food since the majority of the population lives in urban areas (some 60 percent) and are buyers of food. In rural areas, herders are self-sufficient in meat and dairy products but need to acquire all other food products, in particular flour, an important component in their diets. Trade liberalization has contributed to improve availability and stability of food supplies. Markets throughout the country are well-stocked with food products, including wheat flour, rice, vegetables and fruits. Prices of most basic foods, except meat, have remained stable or have declined since 2000 in real terms. While the decline in prices of basic food has overall favoured access to food, the largest reductions have been in prices of flour products and vegetables, which are the main staples of the low-income groups of population. The improvement of the terms of trade between meat/flour and meat/potatoes has also benefit herder populations’ access to food.

Meat prices in domestic markets are well below those in the world market, highlighting the country’s export potential, but also the difficulties to import in time of crisis. Meat prices have been increasing significantly in the past three years reflecting the reduced meat supply. As a result of the long and cold Mongolia winter, there is marked price seasonality with prices of meat and vegetables increasing in spring months, and those of milk rising in winter (Figure 8).

Crop Prospects and Food Situation preview


Satisfactory food consumption at national level


At national level, the food security situation is satisfactory. Average per capita annual consumption of basic foods has augmented since 2000.2 Rates of meat and dairy products intakes at 100 kg/pc/year and 140 kg/pc/year in 2005 are high by regional standards, while that of wheat stands at 119 kg/pc/year. Nutritional indicators have also shown general positive trends, with declines in child malnutrition rates in recent years, although micro-nutrient deficiencies persist.

Poor people living in cities are the most food insecure


However, the bright panorama at national level hides the vulnerability and food insecurity of large numbers of population. The most food insecure people are the poor in the cities: Ulaanbaatar and the provincial and district capitals. These populations have basically no animals (or have very limited numbers) and their livelihood depends on cash incomes.
The main cause of their food insecurity is insufficient purchasing power to buy food.
The poor households are mostly people who lost animals and migrate to cities, where rates
of unemployment and underemployment are very high. Lack of education and skills of migrants from the countryside make it difficult for them to find a job in the new environment.
The poor households derive their living from temporary jobs and provision of services, social benefits, and gifts from wealthier families.
Seasonal labour patterns prevail and during colder months, little to no working opportunities are available. In this period, the pressure on families’ financial resources is also augmented by the rising living costs as heating is needed as much as food during the winter.
The poorest strata of the cities’ population cannot afford
to consume meat or milk and their diets are based on flour products, potatoes and vegetables. Moreover, their access to food is unstable as coping mechanisms of poor in the cities include skipping on meals during the day or having them once every two days.

Small Herders and farmers are generally food secure
but the most vulnerable


Herder population, accounting for two-thirds of the rural population and some 28 percent of the national total, appears to have an adequate food security situation. In general, this population has a sufficient intake of food, which includes wheat, meat and milk. Nevertheless, herders show micro-nutrient deficiencies because of poor diet diversification.
The farmer population is concentrated in Central provinces where they mainly cultivate wheat and vegetables on commercial basis. Their food security situation is also satisfactory.
At the same time, however, the high risk of extreme weather changes, mainly dzuds and droughts, coupled with the lack of livelihood diversification, make herders and farmers the most vulnerable group of the population. Large sections of these populations can become destitute and food insecure from one season to the next if livestock is lost. This is particularly the case for poor households (commonly defined as those having 25 or less heads), which represent about one-quarter of the total herder population. Poor herders are also subject to temporary food insecurity in early spring when winter stocks of meat and milk products are exhausted and pastures have not yet regenerated.

While the vulnerabilities and risk of rural and urban populations are different, there is a continuum between vulnerability in agricultural areas and food insecurity in the cities.
The urban food insecure people are often vulnerable herders who lost their animals and migrated to city areas in search of a job but remained unemployed.

1.  The purpose of the bod scale is to calculate the size of the herd by transforming all animals into equivalent horses. One horse is assumed to be the same as one cattle (cow or yak), 0.67 camels, six sheep or eight goats.

2.  National Statistic Office: “Mongolian Statistical Yearbook”, 2000 to 2005

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