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Food Security in Mongolia

Food security in Mongolia is closely related to the issue of rural poverty (Chimeddulam et al. 2008). Before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent breakdown of Mongolia’s centralised economic planning, there was no serious problem of indigence in the population according to national statistics. However, after the economic and social transition, the unemployment rate and inflation rate have surged. Rural poor people are made up of “women who are heads of households,” “members of households with more than four children,” “families with small herders,” “unemployed people,” “people without basic education,” and “vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and disabled people and orphaned children” (RPP 2016). One of the reasons for such rural poverty is that the rural poor are isolated in a small group, are nomadic and are scattered across remote regions: “Huvsgul, Arhangai, Bayan-Olgiy in the north-west, Dorno-Gobi in the south-east and Bayanhorngor in the south-central part of the country” (RPP 2016). Herders are most vulnerable people in terms of poverty and food security in Mongolia. Some herders move with their cattle, living in a traditional tent called ger, while some live in soum in order to obtain access to health care, education services and other group benefits.

The main source of livelihood and income for most herders is livestock production (FAO, UNICEF et al. 2007). The number of livestock per herder decreased by more than 50% between 1990 and 2000, while the herder population has increased from about 150,000 in 1990 to 420,000 in 1999 (RPP 2016). The livestock industry of herders has been seriously hit by harsh winter conditions, called dzud, in 2009/10 and in 2105/16. The unusual cold temperature is as low as -46 °C, and the high levels of snowfall killed 9.7 million animals in 2009/10 (OBG 2016). Although most herder families need at least 10 heads of cattle or

70 sheep, approximately 20 % of the herders have less than 10 animals (RPP 2016). Herders with less than 10 animals are struggling hard with long-term poverty and survival, as well as coping with deteriorating pastures, harsh winter conditions, contagious animal diseases and lack of water (RPP 2016). To support rural families in Mongolia, a food stamp programme has been implemented (ADB 2014).

The poverty level in rural areas is 35 % of the population, whereas in an urban setting it is 23.3 % (Theunissen 2014). In addition, most herders face problems in creating job opportunities for future generations (Theunissen 2014). Many people moving towards urban areas fail to settle in cities, and choose to stay in the ger district located on the outskirts of cities (Theunissen 2014). The ger district is not intended for settlement or housing communities by the government, so there is no proper infrastructure, such as water, electricity, sewage and heating; nor are there, any social services, such as schools, kindergartens and job training centres (Theunissen 2014). Such a lack of education leads to a high rate of unemployment and low-paying jobs or self-employment (Theunissen 2014). The largest city, Ulaanbaatar, with more than 60% of the whole population of Mongolia has a high poverty level, recorded as 19.8% in 2012. In addition, high inflation (12.4% in 2013) worsens the economic and living conditions in Mongolia (Theunissen 2014).

Markets for access to food in Mongolia are generally well developed. People in urban areas can access food easily through markets, whereas herders in rural areas live mainly on their own meats and dairy products. Therefore, it is important for people in rural areas to access other main food products, such as flour.

In 2007 it was estimated that 1.13 million tons of food was needed in Mongolia in 2007, but domestic production of food would provide only 75 % of the whole demand (Soninbayar 2010). In order to overcome this food production gap, Mongolia created and implemented the National Food Security Program (NFSP) for 2009-2016. With the co-operation of the government, private industry and the public, the goal of the programme is to create a stable food supply system to produce and distribute affordable, good, nutritious and trustworthy food for the whole population (Soninbayar 2010). The Rural Poverty Reduction Programme funded by the IFAD also supports the NFSP to aid food security and supports rural people in cultivating potatoes and vegetables. Thanks to such efforts, the food production of staple food was almost met in the period 2006-2007: meat 98.3% (100% of the government target), milk 95.2 % (100% of the government target), potatoes 74.3% (55% of the government target) and vegetables 45.3% (65% of the government target) (Soninbayar 2010). Although Mongolia has faced various challenges, such as an economic downturn, widening economic inequality and an increase in poverty, it recently achieved improvement in food self-reliance.

Continuing economic growth in Mongolia has contributed to relieve its poverty levels from 38.7% in 2010 to 27.4% in 2012, but economic inequality has increased (Theunissen 2014). Many people in Mongolia have a tendency to believe that those engaging in the mining industry have more economic and social benefits, such as education and job opportunities, than others (Theunissen 2014). Drops in the price of the main Mongolian exports - minerals, coal and copper-, and the decline in foreign investment of 54% compared to that in 2013, due to the conflict of international contracts in the mining industry and insecure regulation systems, led to the downturn of the Mongolian economy (Theunissen 2014).

From the first food security programme, Mongolia learned five key lessons (Soninbayar 2010): (1) Mongolian law seems inadequate to monitor entities, industry and consumers; (2) overlapping responsibilities/tasks exist for too many Mongolian entities; (3) there are low efficiencies in policy implementation, due to complication of too many goals and subgoals; (4) there is a need for the reliability and quality of data collection and analysis in order to improve monitoring, evaluating and forecasting; and (5) it is necessary to raise the productivity of the livestock industry by focusing on breeding quality. In addition, other lessons for food security are (1) how it can help poor urban people in early spring; (2) how it can support the urban poor and vulnerable communities given the higher prices of staple foods; and (3) how it can create innovative schemes (e.g., vouchers, social cards) for vulnerable groups.

The second NFSP focused on a “proactive,” “pro-poor” approach to curtailing poverty with specific strategies along with private industry (Soninbayar 2010). The main factors to consider are (1) the traditional nomadic industry system in rural areas; (2) the vulnerable conditions of farmers and herders; (3) the remote isolation of households and communities in rural areas, and the unique nature of their food consumption and seasonal patterns; and (4) increasing urbanisation and urban population. With these focal considerations, the second NFSP is to put policy intervention on “food security to improve food self-reliance,” “food safety to rationalise and make food management/control systems ‘fit for purpose’,” and “nutrition to reach the Millennium Development Goal 1 of halving hunger and under-nutrition by 2015.”

The NESP has four initiative areas: “enabling environment,” “food security,” “food safety” and “nutrition” (Soninbayar 2010). Enabling environment is about “building capacity to make necessary reforms in food policy and institutional frameworks to meet modern needs,” “promoting food research, information and monitoring and evaluation,” and “developing innovative financing and credit schemes for the agricultural investments, such as the Agricultural Development Fund.” Food security has two focal features: (1) the increase of national food production by the privately owned agriculture industry and the gradual increase of income in rural areas and (2) the diversification and intensification of food production of rural households and easier access for urban households to good-quality and affordable food. The focus on food safety introduces and distributes modern food processing and food management systems in terms of highly cost-efficient systems. For nutrition, the main agendas are “increasing public awareness,” “managing research and information,” “preventing micro-nutrient deficiency,” “supporting food fortification,” “reducing non-communicable diseases” and “promoting clean water supplies.” According to the National Programme for Food and Security 2009-2016 (2009) , Mongolia’s objectives are (1) to create a positive business environment in the food and agriculture sector; (2) to provide sustainable development in the sector; (3) to increase productivity; (4) to introduce new technologies; and (5) to provide increased production of a high-quality food supply. Funding sources for implementing the programmes are the State budget (35%), donor assistance (35%), external soft loans (18%) and the private sector (2%) (Galanbuyan 2008). The Mongolian National Science and Technology master plan (MoECS 2007) includes a specific R&D plan for food security.

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