I recently had the opportunity to speak with EMIRGE Mongolia Program Manager, Ms. Tuul Tuvshinbayar. After spending some time in the field, in the more rural areas of Mongolia, Tuul was clearly distraught over what she and her team were witnessing.
Tuul, when you were last in the field, what were you seeing happening?
I have recently returned from what is normally the breadbasket of Mongolia, but what I actually saw was very worrying. When crops are usually 60-80 cm in height, this season they are only 10-40cm high.
Why are the crops underperforming this year?
Unfortunately, Mongolia is experiencing a severe drought. In Mongolia, we have a very short summer, and therefore, a very short growing season. However, during this season, it has only rained twice! Farmers are losing their harvests, and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture is already announcing a 40 % loss of crops across the country due to drought.
What other implications does the drought have?
Mongolians rely upon livestock, and it is one of the largest sectors in the country. The drought is difficult for the livestock, but it is particularly difficult because during the summer season, farmers often grow hay and feed to get the animals through the harsh Mongolian winters. I have spoken with many farmers that are saying that they will have to cull their animals this year because they will otherwise starve during the winter. It is a very difficult decision for a farmer to make—to slaughter his own animals—as it will take at least three years to recover from the slaughter.
Do you think there are any potential solutions or ways that the drought could have been handled differently?
To be honest, this is one of our biggest challenges. Farmers and herders could have made the decision to plant and grow green fodder. I understand that it has its own challenges, such as lack of irrigation and other animals can easily destroy the fodder if there are no fences, but in this situation, fodder could be the alternative to slaughter. EMIRGE has taught many farmers how to plant fodder, but not all of them have planted it. These fodder demonstrations were also attended by farmers other than EMIRGE farmers. We wanted to spread this knowledge as wide as possible, however because of many obstacles faced by farmers, they do not plant as much as we would hope they would. This is a challenging question for me that I cannot understand. Many farmers say that they will just purchase hay, but because of the drought, hay is going to be twice as expensive as before and there is a shortage in the country.
Is index-based weather or livestock insurance available for smallholder farmers in Mongolia? Although crop insurance is available, it is mostly purchased by larger scale farmers or herders. The World Bank first supported the Index-Based Livestock Insurance Program in the country in 2005, and it is slowly growing. It is still new for many smallholder farmers, and it is not well marketed to many smallholder farmers.
What are the most immediate next steps for EMIRGE?
The winter is rapidly approaching. Some of the rural areas expect snow in a couple of weeks. Our team is doing our best to support our cooperative members to make fodder for the winter time. For me, as a development practitioner, I am looking for any lessons learnt from others in similar situations. I keep asking myself how the farmers can overcome these obstacles and plant enough fodder so that they can feed their livestock. I think it is a question that will haunt me all winter long.
© COPYRIGHT 2015. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Designed and Managed by EcoVentures International