What if Mongolia Went All-Organic?

By Julian Dierkes

I recently re-tweeted an ADB tweet about one of their blog posts, “The Foreseeable Future of Mongolia’s Agriculture

My RT proved surprisingly popular and ended up with over 20 RTs and over 3,500 impressions (yes, I watch these Twitter stats!). It clearly resonated. The post was generally very good, but as you can see in my tweet, I find the potential of high-value exports to China, Japan and Korea particularly interesting given the organic quality of Mongolian meat, especially.

Among the reactions to my RT were those pointing out some of the challenges in setting up such high-value exports. For example,

Country-Wide Certification

This question gets raised regularly and there have been a number of attempts at certification and establishing product chains to benefit from the quality of Mongolian produce. Generally, such attempts as well as branding attempts have faltered and thus leaves many people skeptical.

Would it be possible to consider all-of-Mongolia certification as an alternative?

Rather than certify individual producting sites, why not go all-pesticide(and other nasty things)-free for all of Mongolia?

Has anyone considered this?

Obviously, going all organic would be a challenge to some producers, but it would not be a challenge at all to others. Most mobile pastoralists who are raising animals are probably doing so in organic fashion already. Grasslands (given prevailing wind patterns, etc.) should be certifiably organic.

The question then might be that if industrial production can be set up (that’s a topic that E Enerelt’s blog post focusses on), would that automatically imply a shift to more intensive production, presumably raising the possibility of hormones, antibiotics, etc.

The constraints that have kept Mongolia from realizing its meat export potential include low technological and production capacity, logistics limitations, few meat plants, quotas, and phytosanitary barriers. Existing processing plants require substantive upgrading to improve production capacity and meet quality and sanitary requirements. Due to poorly developed logistics and trade procedures, the costs of trading across borders are considerable.

If any of these obstacles can be overcome without introducing chemicals, etc. would that not be an innovation that would be worth considering?

Some elements of Mongolian agricultural production are so recent (or are getting re-established recently) that they should be able to adjust more easily to a different production paradigm, organic.

Other Possibilities

Organic certification would be quite natural for a number of Mongolian agricultural products, especially meat.

But sea buckthorn (чацаргана) is also produced organically, I would guess, as is honey or pine nuts.

Gobi Cashmere is already promoting their organic line, so the label seems to be meaningful in the cashmere context as well. The same logic would hold for some of the Mongolian skincare/beauty product brands that are establishing themselves.

I don’t know if ingredients for Chinggis Beer are sourced locally, but if they are, their lager could be “organic lager”.

All-country organic certification would make marketing simpler as it could simply advertise all Mongolian agricultural production as organic, possibly raising the possibility of buy-in from a variety of producers (and perhaps donors).

Finally, any marketing of all Mongolian agricultural products as organic would reinforce the kind of eco-tourism that is regularly touted as a diversification possibility for the Mongolian economy.

Crazy idea? Been done before? Comments, please!

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He tweets @jdierkes
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