The future of Mongolian nomadic lifestyle under debate

Posted by kha5 at Oct 01, 2012 12:31 PM |
Mongolian herders are facing multiple pressures on their livelihoods, traditionally based on nomadic pastoralism, from climate change, mining, desertification and new policies on land. At a meeting in Ulaanbaatar in September 2012, organised by researchers from the University of Leicester, herders were able to discuss these issues directly with ministers, donors and government advisors.
The future of Mongolian nomadic lifestyle under debate

A Mongolian camel herder and his ger

This meeting is the culmination of a two year research project, ‘Community, Place and Pastoralism: Nature and Society in Post Soviet Central Asia’, led by Dr Caroline Upton from the Department of Geography, University of Leicester and funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

In recent years herders have been encouraged through government policy and donor interventions to form herder groups.  These groups are designed to collaborate in pasture management, labour sharing and environmental conservation, as well as marketing of their livestock products, thus improving local livelihoods and resilience. A long-debated draft pastureland law, to be considered by the new government in the next session of parliament, seeks to strengthen rights to key seasonal pastures for families and herders groups. Although this law focuses on possession rather than ownership rights, for some herders it has raised fears over the ultimate privatisation of pastureland and reduction in the ability to move, particularly in times of need. Government policy is also promoting intensification of livestock production.  Thus, there are tensions between mobile and more sedentary livestock production in rural areas and questions are raised over the place of nomadic culture and identity in modern Mongolia.

Dr Kate Moore, researcher with the project, spent 5 months living in Mongolia interviewing and working with herders. She commented, “The herders that I met were deeply aware of climatic and environmental change in their pastures that are affecting their nomadic lifestyle. They often have to move further and more often to find good grazing for their goats, sheep, horses and camels. Therefore many are concerned that any moves towards privatisation of pasture will reduce their ability to maintain their livelihoods and nomadic culture.”

Mongolia group
Caroline Upton and Kate Moore receive gifts from herders at the end of the project.

Dr Caroline Upton believes, “this is a critical moment in decision making about the future of Mongolia’s rural areas. Enhanced rights of herders’ groups to key seasonal pastures have the potential to make positive contributions to local livelihoods and to conservation.  Increases in mining activity also make the recognition of land rights especially important, so that herders’ voices may be heard in defending and seeking compensation for land loss and displacement.  However, centuries old traditions of mobility, flexibility and reciprocity should not be lost.  As other pastoral cultures have found, ‘modernity’ does not necessarily equate with sedentarisation or privatisation. Nomadic heritages and practices retain great value”.

The Leverhulme team are finalising detailed reports to share with herders, international donors, and government policy makers, as part of their contribution to these vital, ongoing debates.

For more information contact Dr Caroline Upton
Dr Kate Moore

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