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PREM Working Paper 05-10 - Carrying capacity dynamics, livestock commercialisation and land degradation in Mongolia's free market era

Author(s) Dietz, A., Amgalan, E., Erdeneculuun, T., Hess, S
Date 2005-06-29
Theme(s) Climate, Agriculture
Method(s) Social Analysis, Policy Instruments
Serie(s) Working Papers


The dramatic consequences of the severe winters and droughts between 1999 and 2002 drew world-wide attention to Mongolia’s important livestock sector and its extensive – and growing – nomadic pastoralists. Much of the focus in this regard was put on the impacts of the change from
communist rule to a free market regime. In a recent section of the journal ‘Development and Change’ 35(1), co-ordinated by Robin Mearns, these consequences are discussed extensively. However, concepts like 'nature', 'market', and 'degradation' are used as container concepts, without much empirical specificity.

A recent research project run by Mongolian and Dutch researchers applied models of carrying capacity dynamics, and caloric terms of trade, to better understand the relationships between the dynamics of nature and the dynamics of the market in this volatile environment. The project applied these models to Mongolia as a whole, and to two case study areas: Ugtaal in the north, and Gurvansaikhan in the south.

The analysis shows the importance of policy attention for livestock commercialisation. A large majority of herders simply do not have enough animals to sustain themselves in the traditional way. They are either forced to
combine subsistence livestock-keeping with a variety of other jobs, or they can choose to become more market-oriented herders. If they do this wisely, they can increase their incomes, improve their health, and maintain the pastures. However, this depends on renewed forms of land and water
management institutions preventing the few rich (and partly absentee) herders from overutilising the pastures to the detriment of their poorer, and more market-oriented, fellow pastoralists.


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