October 22, 2013
Mongolia Nomads turn to Private Land
Green pastures: Orgodol walking on a piece of
grassland in Altanbulag, a sum (district) of Selenge Province in northern Mongolia. — AFP
ALTANBULAG: Mongolia’s nomads have roamed its
sprawling grasslands for centuries, pitching their yurts wherever they find pasture for their animals, but now
Tsogtsaikhan Orgodol is staying put as part of a scheme to tackle chronic overgrazing.
The tanned 53-year-old still wears his nomad’s riding boots, but he and his
community have been given exclusive rights to 1,000ha of steppe in exchange for reducing their herds and remaining
in the same place all year round, giving the land a chance to regenerate.
“I have agreed to cut the number of our goats in half,” said Orgodol, looking out
from horseback over their 200 animals, mostly sheep and some cows, who despite the project principles are not
“The only problem is when other animals come,” he added. “They sense where the
good grass is. We have to chase them away.”
According to MCC’s website, the project will cover about 300 tracts of land near
Ulan Bator and Mongolia’s next two largest towns, Erdenet and Darkhan, involving around 1,000 households in
Orgodol’s 22-strong group shares two yurts, known as gers in Mongolia, and a
permanent house next to a barn about 45km outside the capital Ulan Bator.
The national tradition is for land to be accessible to all, with pastoralist
families moving several times a year in search of fodder and water.
But Nyamsuren Lkhagvasuren, who runs the land programme for the US-funded aid
agency Millennium Challenge Corporation, said: “The number of livestock has exploded to more than 40
“This goes beyond the limits of what is reasonable, even for Mongolia, which is a
In a study published last month in the journal Global Change Biology, researchers
from the University of Oregon using satellite images from NASA found that 70% of Mongolia’s grassland –
which makes up almost four-fifths of the country – is now “degraded”.
Twelve percent of the country’s biomass has disappeared in recent years, they
said, calling overgrazing a “primary contributor” to the alarming decline of the steppe.
Livestock was collectivised under the socialist planned economy imposed under
decades of Com-munist dictatorship when Mongolia was a satellite of the Soviet Union.
But since the advent of democracy and a market economy in 1990, many Mongolians
have returned to their sheep and cattle – partly because unemployment shot up – so that 40% of the working
population are now herders. — AFP
Agriculture Minister Battulga Khaltmaa – a former judo champion – acknowledged
concerns about desertification but downplayed the University of Oregon findings, attributing the problem to climate
change rather than overgrazing.
“The number of animals is not that high compared to the size of the land,” he
In the Soviet era even greater numbers of cattle roamed the country of 1.6 million
sq km, he pointed out.
“Under socialism, we had 26 million livestock and under Stalin the target was set
at 250 million in order to meet the demand for meat in Siberia.”
Mongolian sheep and cattle graze grasslands at the Hustai National Park in Mongolia
But herders who cannot command high prices resort to selling large quantities
instead, said Thomas Pavie, an agriculture expert who advises French government projects in Mongolia.
“There is indeed overgrazing, especially in the production of cashmere. The
problem is that Mongolia exports wool in the form of raw material, particularly to China, so the value-added
happens somewhere else,” he said.
“That requires them to produce a lot. If wool were sold more expensively, they
would need fewer animals.” — AFP