Sub-theme 9. Conservation, environmental justice and the commons
Saving the Commons in the Mongolian Steppes: Environmental Hazards, Economic Disincentives, and Global Development Discourses
Mongolia and its pasturelands have for long been considered a paradigmatic case for a common property regime. Little alternative is left in this harsh, continental environment but a usage of land for extensive livestock herding. This has not even changed significantly during socialist times when patterns of annual mobility changed more in name than in practice. Recent years have seen a shift, however, partly driven by international development advisors who advocate corporate styles of ranching and group lease contracts to prevent a ‘tragedy of the commons’. On the ground, these changes have – fortunately, as one might say – not yet materialized and do not fit well with established patterns of land usage and local allocation rules. Instead, it seems essential to protect the existing common property regime that allows pastoralists the flexibility necessary for the survival of their herds and households.
1. Beyond common and private dualism in Mongolian steppe
International Institute for the Study of Nomadic Civilisations, Mongolia
Mongolian people have been identified as nomads moving freely across seasonal pastures, depending from weather conditions, environmental hazards and conflicts. Development planners and agencies imply that when hit by hazards and lost livestock, these people fled to urban places to survive and prosper based on the private property. Such perceptions and understandings led to the dualistic categories of nomadic and sedentary in which the latter represents private property and the former represents the common property. This misrepresentation brought the agricutlural collectives by Soviet Marxists and resource-use groups by Neoliberals. This paper argues that the common and private properties are entangled and dispersed bacause the Mongolian concepts of properties are situational. In both places, the private use of common properties is restricted by the other private users. If no one claims, the common became private for users. Private became public when others challenge and compete for it.
2. Rights to the Commons: Herders caught between private and public land in an extractivist state
University of Oxford, UK
Large-scale extractivism across Mongolia has emerged chaotically and with little regard for social safeguarding or attention to its social impacts on mobile pastoralists across the country. In this paper, I argue that Mongolia’s state-owned land regime, which has enabled and supported long-distance pastoralism across the country, now presents a primary threat to common use of natural resources and traditional mobility practices. The lack of hard, legally-protected land rights for herders has come into sharp focus as the central government licenses large tracts of land for exclusive mineral extraction and export. This situation presents a dilemma, as public lands remain vulnerable to land aquisition for mineral development while privatisation disables traditional pastoralist mobility and further fragments the commons. Drawing on recent analyses exploring rights to mobility and nomadic land use, this paper explores ways to secure a national commons based on nomadic traditions and pastoralist livelihoods.
3. Governing nature: ideologies of landscape management in rural Mongolia
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Since the privatization of Mongolia’s former collective and state farms during the early 1990s, this Inner Asian country has seen a huge upsurge in the number of privately owned animals pastured on the nation’s steppe and desert regions. Aside from reflecting a wholesale, post-socialist reorganization of social and economic relations, this trend towards greater and greater levels of private livestock ownership has caused significant – and potentially irreversible – change to the ecology of Mongolia’s countryside. In light of these profound changes, this paper explores the emergence of ideologies of ‘protection’ (khamgaalalt)) in rural Mongolia. Simultaneously evoking defence against hazards like anthropogenic environmental damage and the possibility of living well in an optimally-ordered world, ‘protection’ affords insight into contradictions at the heart of modern-day Mongolian pastoralism: a desire to carry out stewardship of the landscape and its resources as precious national assets with economic imperatives to accumulate livestock on a large scale (as liquid but unstable forms of wealth, as collateral for bank loans, and as accumulated assets capable of endowment to one’s children). This analysis is made on the basis of long-term ethnographic fieldwork carried out in central Mongolia’s khanghai (forest-steppe) region between 2013 and 2015.
4. Green Gold in the Steppes: Security and Flexibility in Pastoral Mobility
University of Zurich, Switzerland
With the dissolution of the socialist system in Mongolia also existing rules of land allocation have lost acceptance and legitimacy. This, in many cases, has caused a shift from a common pool resource management to one of open access, threatening the long-term sustainability of pasture usage. The national government in alliance with development agencies and international advisers propagated the establishment of “pasture use groups” (PUG) by way of introducing a new law regarding land allocation and accompanying development schemes, such as the “green gold” program, sponsored mainly by Swiss agencies. In this paper, the implementation and possible consequences of such schemes will be investigated, taking the case of pastoralists in the province of Khovd, in the far west of the country, as example. Among local herders there is little support for this as the introduction of fixed user groups would restrict flexibility in grazing cycles, which is characterised by annually shifting and overlapping patterns. At the same time, overstocking and seasonal misuse are clearly identified as potential threats, and neither local authorities nor communal institutions seem able to resolve those. In line with ideas developed by Ostrom (1990) and others, the re-organisation of local institutions to govern the commons may need a close and trustful cooperation with the state and other stakeholders to secure a long-term sustainable usage of pastureland.