“Times are not always the same; the grass is not always green”, says a Mongolian proverb which couldn’t be more accurate for contemporary local herders seeking to feed their livestock in the face of climate change and widespread environmental degradation. In a country where nomadic pastoralism has passed down from generation to generation, many of Mongolia’s 300,000 herders struggle to maintain the practices inherited from their ancestors over the plateaus of their landlocked territory. An approach which is showing very positive results includes dialogue sessions and negotiations between different stakeholders.
In pursuit of greener pastures, Mongolian nomadic and semi-nomadic herders move on a seasonal basis to leave ‘the dry’ behind. In Mongolia, pasture land is owned by the state, but herders can access it and its resources as a public good. The Land Law, approved in 2002 and amended in 2004, only allows herders to use pasture land and does not permit its allocation or long-term lease. However, public land has become increasingly overused and degraded.
To reverse this trend and strengthen the traditional production system, the local non-profit Environment and Development Association (JASIL), along with various stakeholders, has developed and is implementing the Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) approach. As the name suggests, this aims to promote the sustainable management of all natural resources in a participatory way. As part of this approach, herding families enter into negotiations with community leaders and local governments to define science-based contracts for the seasonal use and management of pasture lands. This includes guidelines based on the carrying capacity of the plots, which are then demarcated in a collaborative way.
This management mechanism is inclusive by definition, encompassing local authorities, community groups and all those individuals who, in own way or another, are part of the ecosystem management processes. While decision-making around pasture land is often conflictual – because many stakeholders are involved and both individual and collective interests are at stake – co-management strengthens the links and trust between the local people and the decentralized governmental administration.
The steps taken have led to the formalization of traditional rights and to a significant increase in herders’ incomes since 2000. Fifty-four community leaders have signed co-management contracts at the district level, while 42 community leaders and 2,830 community members have established agreements at the local level. Scientific innovations and experiences from other countries have been adopted for traditional pasture land management methods. The national government has been a key stakeholder in the co-management of pasture land given the essential need of a supportive legal framework and policies.
The steps taken to improve the use and protection of the forest lands have already shown the results that were expected. Separate steps are needed to review and correct the process in those areas that require special protection, and to take into account the migration of herders from one area to another during severe winters. At the same time, additional efforts are needed to regulate the use of pasture lands, in particular for improving the legal and regulatory support for the formalization of co-management contracts at a national level.
JASIL, in collaboration with other stakeholders, is working so that a more favourable legal support for community-based pasture management is available in the country, seeking the approval of the draft Pasture Law and related articles into the Land Law. JASIL is also testing how information and communications technologies can improve the effectiveness of CBNRM in environmental and economic terms – for example by disseminating weather forecast data. These experiences are being tried in other regions and provinces of Mongolia as well as in countries where pasture land is state-owned and nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralist agriculture is practised.