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Mongolian Rangeland and Resilience project

Written by Tungalag Ulambayar, SoGES 2014-2015 Sustainability Leadership Fellow, and PhD Candidate in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship

My research, as part of Mongolian Rangeland and Resilience project at CSU, is aimed to assess social outcomes of Community-based Rangeland Management (CBRM) efforts to help pastoral communities to manage their resources in a more sustainable manner while maintaining their livelihoods. Any positive results in herders’ livelihood, social relationships, and conditions of natural resources they depend on are considered as social outcomes. In addition, my results may help inform policy formulation for emerging herder organizations as well as more effective support strategies for the development of social institutions for rangeland management.

The major research questions I am asking are:  (1) do social outcomes of formally organized CBRM groups differ from those informal groups? and (2) if they differ, what causes such differences? I am examining 142 community groups from 36 districts in 10 provinces of Mongolia, of which 77 are formal groups and 65 are informal or traditional groups. I am also looking at their members’ grazing practices, and social norms related to grazing management at household level using data from 706 families.

Picture 1. Study sites.

The study is focused on Mongolia, the country at the heart of Northern Asia, which is famous for two facts. First, it is the homeland of Ghengis Khan, who created the largest empire in the world. Second, the country possesses one of the largest remaining rangelands on the planet. The latter poses great responsibility and policy challenges to Mongols to maintain and steward these precious resources of global importance under competing needs for economic development and improvement of social and environmental well-being.

Picture 2. Photo courtesy of Ch.Batzaya

My research is deeply embedded in social and political context of Mongolia. The country has undergone dramatic social and political changes in the last century, to a socialist centrally planned system and the more recent transition to a free market economy and democracy. Mongolian nomads, the key users and guardians of rangelands have demonstrated remarkable resilience. Nationalization of their livestock and forced membership in state cooperatives has been replaced by livestock privatization dismantling state institutions for grazing management, combined with loss of access to health, education, and market services. Together with natural hazards pastoralists frequently face, these socio-economic reforms have increased pressure on the natural resources they depend on.

At the end of 20th century, 80% of the rural poor were herders, whose traditional practices and customary norms for rangeland management have been reported to be dramatically neglected, and leading to negative impacts on rangeland condition. In response, community-based rangeland management (CBRM) has been seen by international donors as an alternative solution to increasingly ineffective state management to address rural poverty and land degradation. The CBRM approach to community development resulted in the creation of over 2000 formal groups supported by 14 different donor projects by 2007.

On the other hand, mixed CBRM outcomes globally have challenged researchers interested in sustainable management of communally used resources such as rangelands. Specifically, the effectiveness of CBRM programs and the factors influencing CBRM success in pastoralist contexts have been rarely investigated. Hence, my results of the study contribute to the efforts of rangeland management both in Mongolia and globally. 

So far my results show that formal CBRMs had more information sources, stronger leadership, greater knowledge exchange, rules and cooperation, and used more sustainable practices than traditional neighborhoods but had the same levels of social capital and livelihood. Results signify positive social effect of the co-management approach but calls for consideration of how to reach livelihood outcomes, a key incentive for community-based management.  

As my research progresses further, I will keep sharing my results on my blog. Everybody interested in this study are welcome to comment and share your views on my posts!

Links to hyperlinked/highlighted words:

Mongolian Rangeland and Resilience project http://warnercnr.colostate.edu/frs-research-outreach/department-research/mongolian-rangelands-and-resilience-mor2

Mongolia https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mg.html

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