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Submitted by Daniel Murphy on
Greetings to all (some of whom I have met before), My name is Daniel Murphy from the University of Kentucky in the US, and I have long-term research experience with herding households in Mongolia. For my dissertation research I lived with herding households for 15 months researching resource management issues. During that time, I did households surveys, interviews, resource mapping, and participant-observation. I would like to speak to some of the issues raise in these posts. (Sorry for the length). First, I would like to echo many of Andrei’s sentiments concerning the problematic of connecting climate change and/or goat-induced degradation to reduced forage availability, particularly when it is clear there was a drought. Decoupling these factors to determine which is the cause of such high livestock mortality in the context of zud is extremely difficult, and although some research has been done, it is nowhere near conclusive enough to promote policies based on such 'observations' and 'recieved wisdom'. Much of what is discussed fits a very common narrative repeated all over the world when mobile pastoralists face such events. A narrative that all too often fits donors strategies but not those of who are most affected. This is not to say goats are not problematic or that climate change is not a real issue - but the fact is, as Andrei has pointed out,there is no real data to rely on. Moreover, I would add simply, how is it that herders have increased livestock from 20 million to 44 million when forage cover was supposed to be in a ‘disastrous’ decline – I wonder what livestock were living on during that time? To the question regarding increased herd sizes: Herders in my research sample, who are from the soum with greatest number of myangat or 1,000 herders, kept larger herds not solely as a means of self-insurance but also to market. The wealthy sold a high percentage of their ‘surplus’ herds, while the poor consumed more. In the west, where livestock product markets are woefully lacking, large herds could be the result of self-insurance. But Mongolia is not monolithic, and the east if very, very different from the west. What happens if the herd size doubles from 44 to 88: Not much – that household is still very poor. 88 is barely sustainable in the east, they would be considered the poorest of the poor. In the east, some households have upwards of 3-4,000 head of stock – one with 15,000. Interestingly, most research has shown that increased herd sizes do not necessarily affect other households, because wealthier households move more frequently, or, as is common in Mongolia, distribute their animals throughout the landscape to client or employee households. They also access pastures the poor cannot utilize. Increased quality: So far, there are few incentives to increase quality. What does a higher quality sheep get a household in return? Better wooled-sheep simply do not survive without serious inputs – they cannot withstand the cold. Better-wool also will not bring significantly higher prices to support herding livelihoods. Plus, Mongolians prefer the meat of Mongol breeds. Quality also implies you have access to better breeding stock. There are greater incentives for more animals rather than better in the current marketplace. The same goes for cattle and horse. Households, however, I found did invest in better goat breeds – even the poorest. The search for the highest cashmere producing goats is always an on-going effort. Limiting herd size: This suggestion reminds me of herders’ recollections of forced collectivization in the early 1930s and coerced collectivization in the late 50s and 60s. There are also a number of reasons why this is problematic: destroys local moral economies that redistribute stock, reduces the benefit of increased investments, would destroy livestock product markets, reduce the amount of meat to urban households, etc. Additionally, I would like to address the notion that somehow private pasture rights are a pathway for mitigating zud risk. During my 15 months in Southern Khentii, I have personally lived through a minor zud. Much of my research data was collected in this context and therefore can speak to these issues. According to my research on the resource use practices of 132 herding households, the primary way in which herders deal with zud is through mobility – it is also the most successful method (this is not just what they said, my data reflect their actual practices). I found that herding households who were able to move not just quantitatively more but to qualitatively better locations were able to withstand the threat of zud to household livestock holdings – suffering on average: 1% mortality rate . Those who found themselves unable to move were exposed to increased rates of loss: 15%. Although economic resources are critical to movement, as Andrei suggests, I found that social and political resources are critical to migration capabilities. Households that moved collectively in large groupings of 6-8 households suffered lower losses and were able to access better forage zones. Moreover, they were able to collect sufficient information to make better informed choices. Households that had political connections through their respective parties, friendships through horse racing, or were able to make ‘gifts/bribes’ were able to leave the soum and arrange winter otor contracts in neighboring or even far-off soums. What is interesting about this data is that poor households that were able to move with wealthier ones experienced loss rates similar to their patron or employer households. The poor who were not able to move because they lacked the social capital to do so, found themselves exposed. The point of this being: mobility is critically important. Nearly half the herders interviewed repeated the same phrase when I asked them about privatization or further privatization of pastureland: dain bolno doo! War will come! Several herders said they would start shooting officials if they did this. The implicit suggestion in previous posts that pasture land should be privatized is simply lacking in any logic. Zud is not a result of a lack of private rights in land. The assumed investments that herders would make in private lands would not make them less vulnerable to zud or other natural hazards, but rather more vulnerable – see Inner Mongolia. Although the problem is at its heart an institutional one (and a lack of markets in the western regions as evidence by the diverse herd compositions and lower total livestock levels per household), it is not one of private versus common property systems; rather, it is one of an ambiguous system that inadvertently relegates the poor and unconnected to what effectively is a ‘poverty trap’ versus a clear, institutional landscape that enables those very households to mitigate disaster the way they would if they had the institutional resources to do so. Promoting privatization is not only being woefully ignorant of the implication such systems pose to herder livelihoods (as evidence by privatization of pastoral lands around the world), it is simply dishonest to say that this is a means to solve the problem posed by zud. Even the implicit suggestion feeds into the modernization fantasies of urban Mongolians whose disdain for herding livelihoods is borne out of some misplaced shame of material-lack, and who look to technocrats for top-down cookie cutter solutions. Cooperatives and other pasture management groups represent a possible pathway. However, I would argue that better governance and better disaster management organization on the part of already in-place formal institutions, particularly via otor contracts and early warning (which needs to be better conceptualized), would serve to mitigate the risks posed by zud. Lastly, and most ardently, I would argue that a greater voice for herders and more democratic-based solutions are the only socially viable means for achieving better risk management. Empowerment requires not just giving herders assets it means creating a political space in which herders can construct their own futures.