Hero of Our Era or Vanguard in the War against Poverty

Article in the English language weekly ‘Mongol Messenger’, May 2005
The world is embarked on achieving millennium development goals for reducing poverty. Poverty has not diminished in Mongolia for the past 10 years. The Parliament is discussing millennium development goals for Mongolia while the Government-announced war against poverty began to face criticisms as it fails to show tangible actions. Yet, understanding that stable economic growth and fair distribution of its outcomes are essential for reducing poverty has improved.
The expectation that Mongolia can get rid of poverty by digging gold and copper appears to be increasing. However, this is unlikely to be satisfactory solution given a likely long way for mining revenues to translate into a bomb to explode poverty and physical limits of these resources. The unbeatable fact is that if stable growth is ensured it is livestock herding, livelihood source to more than 40% of population, where growth can immediately translate into peoples’ benefits.

As a result of the 1999-2002 disastrous dzud and drought Mongolia lost 11m animals, 12 thousand families lost all animals and GDP growth fell down to 1 per cent. Removing such shocks would mean opening a door to eliminating poverty of 40% of population and maintaining annual economic growth at 4-5 per cent at least.
The Government decided to fight against livestock risks by introducing intensification. However, the currently dominant top-down and investment-oriented approach is unlikely to be a right way to implement this task. At least the Food and Agriculture Minister’s annual budget of more than MNT 10 billion would not afford this approach. Future generations seem to be pity if decision-makers come to increasing foreign debt already reached alarming level. Mongolia collected 20 m dollars by advertising carcasses of dzud losses worldwide and spent on flour, rice and fodder only for 2000-2001 and this is a fraction of millions spent on dzud matters. However, the return of these lavishly spent resources is doubtful and Mongolia remained largely unprotected against new dzuds. Donating 20 m to a wizard able to make Mongolia free from dzuds would do a great favor for future generations.
Is there a way out of dzud shocks to livestock herding. There is a famous saying ‘better to look for in home than to ask from others’. Herders who could manage to save their animals in any dzud existed and do exist now. Laying track for smooth replication of best grassroots initiatives is likely to be the most suitable way for poor Mongolia. Inexperienced and new herders make a bulk of those most hit by dzuds. In addition the effectiveness of migration, a traditional way of handling with dzud is becoming exhausted in many places and advanced herders actively look for alternatives.

Mr. Lkhamkhuu, a herder from the Ulziit sum of Bayanhongor aimag is an extraordinary man whose innovations and assiduity provide a clue to many pressing puzzles of livestock development in Mongolia.
He started to build own model of livestock farming in mid 1990s much earlier than today’s policymakers began to theorize about livestock farming options and when policymakers of that time naively expected that livestock privatization and price liberalization would suffice for smooth transition of the livestock sector to a market economy. His achievements are amazing. Since 1994 he has fenced 42 ha of land collecting scrap metal to create reliable winter-spring pastures and hayfield. In the disastrous 2000-2002 dzud he has lost no one animal and helped neighboring herders to save their animals by using his fenced pastures while the Ulziit sum lost 60% of its animals. He has a herd of 500 animals. The carrying capacity of his pastures appears to exceed 20 times the average carrying capacity of Mongolian pastures of 0.5 sheep per ha. The successful replication of this practice may safely increase the national capacity of winter-spring pastures by 2 times taking into account regional variations and other discounting circumstances. Why is it not one feasible option for ensuring stable growth of the livestock sector and ending the war against poverty victorious. 
Mr. Lkhamkhuu was responsible for all initiatives regarding fencing, possessing and protecting pastureland and associated costs.    In addition he regularly paid MNT 27000 to the annual sum budget as pastureland use fees, an issue remained unsolved by politicians for years because of its sensitivity. For the same period policymakers have been debating in numerous donor-funded seminars and workshops on the same issue – whether pastureland should be possessed or not if possessed to introduce fees or not. The debates are continuing now and solutions have not come up yet. There is an ample gap between development vanguards and policies supposed to encourage them.     
Mr. Lkhamkhuu keeps record on marmots on his pastures and advises which ones can be hunted. He thinks that any kind of natural resources can be best protected only if possessed by local people. This might be the best solution to the aching problem of protecting natural resources where the present approach of chasing violations for punishment proved to be futile against conspired actions by protectors and robbers. There is a famous saying ‘better to see once than to hear thousand times’. One would wish policymakers visited once Mr.Lkhamkhuu’s place.  
It is very disappointing to realize the tardiness in recognizing and supporting such good things given the potential that 10000 herders like Mr. Lkhamkhuu can protect Mongolia from disastrous dzuds like that in 2000-2002.

Mr.Lkhamkhuu’s has spent a MNT half million in fencing pastures. By this measurement 20 m dollars would mean 40 thousand herders with protected winter-spring pastures. Development vanguards need to be not discouraged if not supported.  While regretting how many Lkhamkhuus were thwarted by the new land law that deprived herders’ right to possess pastureland one would truly admire the far-sightedness and perseverance shown by hero of our era who does withstand such a policy and consequent bureaucracies.

A. Enkh-Amgalan, Center for Policy Research, Independent Think NGO