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Can Mongolia be considered the last nomadic people in the world?

In the rich history of Mongolia over 2000 years, the land was always belonging to the state and the kings used to guarantee the security of the land. Still, now Mongolian people consider livestock to be private and land to be collective property. In the early 1980s when democracy came to Mongolia, the most controversial political issue was the privatization of land, especially for the herdsman. Over the past decade, the country has been changing rapidly undergoing economic reforms. Although the new Constitution and general Land Law as well as the Law on Land Payment Fees, Law on the State Protected Areas, Mining Code, etc., have been enacted since 1994, the issue of the land privatization remains unsolved.

Seeing all these sheep, goats, cows, horses, and yaks pasturing freely on a land a lot of tourists wonder how this can be managed. So here, I would like to give a brief understanding of Mongolian livestock husbandry based on the nomadic lifestyle of herders. The country is divided into 21 provinces. Provinces are further divided into small county and the responsibility for land management lies with the small county, government though titles are still held by the Parliament. A small county consists of the smallest formal administrative and territorial unit.

As you see, if some of you visited Mongolia and traveled to the countryside, bunch of Gers in one spot in the central, northern, and western part of Mongolia where a mountainous, alpine region has greater possibilities of grass and pasture.

Pasture land has remained under public ownership as it was in the old system with all lands. The appropriate lease holding groups or units of households could be the re-emerging customary institutions such as we have a special name for it. It is known as khot-ail (household consists of several families which are normally blood-related people) and neg nutgiinhan (families from one land or area.)

Those called the main customary institution is the khot-ail, the basic independent social and economic unit. It comprises from one to eight households which camp together for at least one season and cooperate in production activities such as herding, shearing, transport, fodder preparation, etc. Households in the khot-ail are mostly related by blood or marriage but they have a loose internal structure and flexible composition from year to year, depending on the number of animals, pasture capacity, water availability and topography, and even friendship or if they get along well.

The next social unit is generally known as neg nutgiinhan (people of one place), although there are regional variants such as neg jalganihan (people of one valley), neg usniihan (people using the same water source) and neg goliinhon (people of one river). Households included in neg nutgiinhan organize themselves informally to coordinate their use of pasture land, water, and other natural resources, veterinary service provision, livestock breeding, product marketing, and processing.

This kind of group varies considerably in size (ten to 30 khot-ail) and member families may have lived close to one another for at least a generation or two. In the south Gobi, you will see a single Ger out in the middle of nowhere. There are no households in the khot ail for herders, because the vegetation is rare, though richer in the riverbeds. Herdsman in the South-Gobi region is rich with sheep, goats, and camels. You won’t see many cows and horses.

The allocation of pasture land for possession should begin at the “neg nutgiinhan” level with the distribution of winter shelters to each khot-ail, including surrounding pastures where possible. In lease agreements, it is important to secure access to key resources (feed, salt, etc.) and another person's pasture in case of emergencies. It is also important to allot inter-soum and inter-aimag reserve pastures for emergency purposes.

Existing land-use practices and problems in rural and urban areas are becoming controversial at this moment. Although Mongolia is considered one of the few countries of the world which preserved the pristine nature of its environment, one of its important natural components of land is affected by negative changes. Natural circumstances like Mongolia’s high elevation, sparse vegetation, severe climate, thin and light soil cover, combined with overgrazing, chaotic roads, and poor land cultivation practices and other human factors lead to land degradation.

In addition, as much as 95% of the country’s total land is considered to be highly vulnerable to desertification. Besides being changed by the fundamental natural processes like slowly on-going desertification, the land is affected by some anthropogenic factors which are, traditional land-use practices are being changed slightly during the collectivization period in the 1960s-1980s, and especially during the past decade of economic reforms, changes in land use and its load were not accompanied by appropriate land protection sands in a soum center measures.

Many forms of land tenure coexist. Once the new Land Law has been implemented, approximately one percent of the total land area, all of it urban or agricultural, will be under private ownership. Private ownership typically involves fewer restrictions on the use and transfer of land, greater security of tenure, and the ability to use land as collateral. However, it may also lead to inequitable access to land, and a significant divergence between the private and social interests in the use of land. In the case of pastureland—where economic activity is limited, suitable alternative uses are lacking, and ecological risks are high—private ownership systems for herders generally do not apply, but rather group possession rights are considered.

In recent years, pasture degradation has increased almost everywhere in Mongolia and pasture yields have decreased. Many experts claim that this is happening because traditional pasture use practices have been lost, while many herders say that it is caused by a reduction in precipitation. All factors contribute, and the effects on pasture resources are multiplied by increased herd sizes and overgrazing. So, there are many projects that are implementing for herders to educate them not to exceed the number of livestock taking into account carrying capacity of pasture, allow pastureland to regenerate, rotational use of livestock pastures, or use of pastures based on regrowth time, to protect grazing land.

Source: Pastureland management of Mongolia

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