By Julian Dierkes
On an August 2018 trip to Western Mongolia, I heard a lot of countryside reports that the value of animal products, especially meat, is rapidly declining, exacerbating poverty, unemployment, migration to towns and cities, etc.
When you look at the overall perception and foreign reports on pastoralism in Mongolia, the sense of a degradation of pasture land is most urgent. Although this has been a topic for some years, recent weather, possibly related to climate change, have made some discussions more urgent. As Jangar argued in a guest post, a lot of the flooding in summer 2018 was linked to human use.
A variety of interventions have been trialed and carried out, from some kind of collective administration of pastureland to use certificates giving families exclusive use of some pastures over migrating families, but the most pressing concern in the countryside now seems to be the price of meat and of sheep fleeces/wool.
Most shockingly to me, several people mentioned that they had seen fleeces left to rot near gers for lack of buyers. There have also been reports of import of animal products from Russia to Uvs where herding and seabuckthorn and thus agriculture seem to be the only viable business.
While the decline of prices was mentioned frequently, there was very little discussion of its causes. It is hard not to think that this has been a fairly straight forward readjustment of prices in a situation of a large and growing supply.
The winter 2018/19 has been quite mild, with very low levels of snow fall. Few dzud-like conditions have been reported and animal deaths have been well below average.
Some ❄ left on hill from weekend, but spring is here in Ulaanbaatar!
Not much snow this winter = no dzud, few ???????????? dead, but also worry abt ???? & pasture pic.twitter.com/w2cQEUHoJ7
— Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) April 9, 2019
For the Spring of 2019, the national herd thus seems destined to be growing further, leading to possible further downward pressure on prices paid for meat in the countryside. But if the low snow fall amounts will result in drought conditions this summer and further pressure on stressed pasture land, this growing national herd will exacerbate such pressures.
Adding to the economic uncertainty associated with declining prices for animal products are worries about disease. Mongolia has been hit hard by several bouts of foot and mouth disease. The main countermeasure to this seem to be culls and disinfection stations along highways, but these countermeasures appear to have been ineffective as many provinces continue to be affected.
The export of meat and meat products has been a focus of efforts to diversify Mongolia’s economy for the past several years. Yet, any hopes of exporting meat face even greater hurdles given these outbreaks of disease.
The decline in prices noted in the countryside does not seem to be reflected in Ulaanbaatar retail prices where wholesalers seem to be keeping prices up.
Meat Production and Diversification
If meat production is to become a focus of diversification efforts and also continue as a source of livelihoods in rural regions in a context of a rapidly expanded national herd and deteriorating prices, many hurdles have to be overcome.
To enable export, investments into the development of infrastructure are required. Health certification, slaughterhouses, and shipping infrastructure are all needed to enable any notions of exports.