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 toots @jdierkes@sciences.social and tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in Cashmere, Countryside, Development, Environment, Grassland, Infrastructure, Policy, Policy, Public Policy, Regulation, Tourism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What if Mongolia Went All-Organic?

  1. Thanks for continuing the conversation here, Julian!

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

    One thing that comes to mind here is that I have heard over and over that Mongolian herders have been self-medicating their animals since the end of the negdel system… for instance, this summer in the Darkhad, I heard someone had lost around one hundred sheep after a veterinarian had injected them with something or other (this was in the connect of being interviewed by a behavioral ecologist, who was working hard to get detailed info on herd numbers, by the way.)

    The level of infrastructure to make most of Mongolia’s meat production organic would have to look a lot like negdel, I believe.

    Also, something that doesn’t seem to be coming up in these conversations is the degree to which Russia and China are building their own domestic meat production. I don’t know enough to comment about China, but I have gathered that Buryatia and Buryatian organizations (the major company Buryatmyasprom, for instance) have lobbied against importing meat from Mongolia (early on during the sanctions food exports to Russia, there was a deal in the works out of Moscow to have Buryatmyasprom process Mongolian meat, which didn’t materialize). Some of this is due to the lack of processing brought up in the ADB blog, but it’s more than that. Buryatia is one of the poorest regions of Russia, and bringing Mongolian meat in/through is very understandably politically sensitive. Also, hard work would have to be done to counter the “Mongolia is a third-world country” sense prevalent in Russia and China; and I think food is a very different matter in this way compared to cosmetics or textiles.

    Which reminds me, it was basically impossible to find chatsargan or camel textiles in Mongolia this summer. Any one know what was/is going on there?

    • The question of how organic Mongolian meat and agricultural production really is, is something that has been raised to me by others as well. I have no insights on that, but it’s an important objection.
      Of course, if there are non-organic practices that aren’t deeply institutionalized yet/connected closely to industrial/business ties, perhaps these could still be addressed, before a brand might be established.
      I mostly had high-value exports to China in mind, rather than to Russia. None of the Russian Far Eastern cities would seem to have the population/industrial base to produce the kind of ecologically-minded urban middle class that would pay premiums for organic products, or at least not in the same way that many Chinese cities will if they don’t already. Japanese and Korean cities have such consumers in great numbers.
      No ideas about seabuckthorn or camel shortages.

      • J. Batjargal says:

        I think, even if China has it’s own organic meat production, Mongolian meat has a advantage because of Mongolias not polluted air and soils, no matter how actually organic it might be? Although if it comes to food scandals, Mongolia hasn‘t a history like China, and it should be easier to build trust in a new Mongolian organic brand than it is to restore trust in Chinese organic produce, where fraud and critical pollution measured values had been reported in the past.

  2. J. Batjargal says:

    I have (in Germany) almost no insights into Mongolia besides what I can witness through my husband who grew up there and a three weeks visit back in 2012. But I remember vividly the gorgeous taste of mongolian animal products, meat and milk. I think this has potential, but organic buyers usually also prefer local products and unlike special fruits meat and milk will always be available from local farmers, too, as is Sea buckthorn and ransom here. So I see these products more in a niche, the gourmet sector for example. Pine nuts would be something I can imagine. While writing I realize that this is only a really limited European consumer’s point of view, but perhaps the small but growing Chinese organic market is in need for real ‘clean’ produce from Mongolia. And as far as I know in China already exists a network of various certification organisations, both Chinese (lü se products) and international, that could perhaps ‘expand‘ to Mongolia.

    Another thought is, that came to me when I encountered pictures of large cropfields in Mongolia. I found this a frightening view because I remembered the frugal soil being only a two hands thick/thin layer in Mongolia. Intensive growing and the use of heavy machines withouth any investment into measures to prevent erosion or give sth back to the soil would make this vulnerable and precious layer vanish within a short time as it happened with the North American grasslands, known as the ‘dust bowl‘ in the 1930ies. I think there are some similarities if you look at the preconditions. Because of that organic farming (understood not only as a method of leaving out herbicides etc but as a method of actually caring for and nurturing the soil by giving back through organic fertilizer, growing threes against erosion and wind, and using machines that do not harm the microorganisms in the soil) should be the method of choice… Of course it will generate less harvest but intensive farming will eventually deploit and destroy soils for a long time.. Anything that aims at a mass production, if cashmere or crops, to me, seems to have too many longterm risks for Mongolian resources, so this is why I just naively wish that there is a market for extensive produced/grown Mongolian produce and a possibility of logistic connection..

  3. Ganbat Bavuudorj says:

    As my view of expectation, the brand new organic Mongolian food should be associated with good-trusted logistic.

    There is a research article in social, written by Japanese researcher, has been fluctuated much recently regarding a higher amount of lead that exposed in the livestock meat near Erdene soum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *