Building partnership and collaboration for livelihood security in pastoral communities

Interventions and Results

The Alternative Livelihood Project was directly implemented by United Nations Development Programme in Shinejinst soum of Bayankhongor in the period of March 2011 – June 2013. The main objective of the project was to alleviate social inequality of most neglected and vulnerable populations affected by both serious poverty and climate change in South Mongolia to enhance their human security with integrated, multisectoral and prevention measures (UNCT, 2011). To reach this objective five sub-objectives were proposed by the joint UN country team in Mongolia and Objective #4 was to provide the target communities with income generation opportunities through community-based organizations, in order to empower their economic security and sustain their livelihood. According to the project document, it was proposed to implement series of activities to promote ‘top-down’ protection and ‘bottom-up’ empowerment within the scope of the project.


  • Herders in Shinejinst soum mainly raise goats, sheep and camels. Shinejinst is located about 250 km from the provincial center and 860 km south-west from Ulaanbaatar capital city. Total population of Shinejinst soum is 2287 people and 631 households.
  • Total population of Shinejinst soum is 2287 people and 631 households. The total number of herder households is 415 (65% of the total households). It borders with five other soums: Bayangobi, Bayan-Undur, Jinst and Tsogt.
  • The project was a case of building local scale partnership and collaboration among various stakeholders for livelihood security in pastoral rural communities in Mongolia.
  • The ALP activities were implemented in accordance with the soum priorities including development of risk management and improved livestock management strategies. The project was timely implemented that supported capacity building of newly established soum Livestock Unit and the project activities were in line with priorities of Mongol Livestock National Programme. Through close cooperation and partnership with the Livestock Unit, the ALP contributed not only in building its capacity, but also developing soum community empowerment and support strategies.

To implement the project in participatory ways to encourage bottom-up empowerment it was important to have a full time local project coordinator who will work independently from, but in cooperation with the local government. By following UNDP human resource recruitment procedure, a local coordinator was recruited locally in the beginning of the project. Shinejist soum government provided an office space for the project local coordinator in the governor’s office building. According to the job description, the local coordinator was responsible for implementation and coordination of the project activities in the soum while establishing and maintaining effective communication and collaboration with the project stakeholders, including rural herders and other people living in the soum center. 

The project concept doesn’t support the hierarchical decision making to achieve its objectives and the project implementation unit (PIU) located in Ulaanbaatar implemented number of awareness building, capacity and skill development training programs for the project local coordinators from 6 target soums. Ms. Chimeg described her first experience when she started the work: “It was revealing after the first induction training in Ulaanbaatar, importance of participatory approach to develop a good collaboration with soum government and local herder groups.”

In parallel, it was also critical to train soum government officials whose participation and collaboration is the key to successful implementation of the project. According to the focus group discussion with the soum officials, they highlighted training and capacity building activities that were important to obtain necessary understanding about the project design and its implementation principles. 

Within the two years, the project facilitated formation and development of herder community-based organizations with the purpose of simultaneously improving and diversifying herders’ livelihood and increasing risk management capacity in the face of climate change and occurrence of frequent dzud and drought. Communication and relationship building with herders was guided less by formal authority structure, but social exchange of mutual interests and understanding of responsibilities between local project coordinator and herder group. Normally herders have obtained a flawed understanding of investment and support from the donor or government funded projects, and it is thought that only those who have close and kinship relationships have an access to such support schemes.

Collaboration with the herder groups for skill development, income generation and innovative adaptive practices

 “Last year we first time planted fodder plants in our field, we planted wild oats and alfalfa under the instruction of our fodder trainer. Last fall we harvested oats and fed our livestock. We didn’t feed livestock by alfalfa, but this year alfalfa is growing better and we will harvest this crop this fall” (“Yembuu Tsakhir” herder cooperative member, May 2013).

Within the scope of the project, herder groups implemented several innovative and improved initiatives to diversify their income generating opportunities and enhance their capacity for risk management and disaster preparedness. Main ideas for these initiatives were originated from herder groups who expressed their request for assistance for inputs, skill development and training. The following small-scale pilot projects were successfully implemented with the support from and in collaboration with the ALP:

  • Sheep wool processing and production of hand-made felt-products by women group “Gobi urlan”
  • Production of fodder crops (wild oats and alfalfa) for sheep and goats feeding during the winter and other emergency period 
  • Vegetable production in greenhouses and using water-saving drip irrigation to diversify and support household food security and income generation alternatives
  • Restoration and protection of natural springs to support watering livestock as well as developing small scale fodder and vegetable production and for livestock 
  • Participation and organization of various skill development training and experience sharing and exposure trips
  • Participation in exhibition fairs and exposure to the external markets to sell dairy and wool/felt products produced by the herder groups
  • Learning of innovative and good practices by participating in a series of training on developing capacity and knowledge to cope with dzud, drought and other shocks.

For example, one of the most prominent initiatives that soum government promoted as good practice is plantation of fodder crops under irrigated condition. Herders were new to cultivating fodder crops and they didn’t have any experience planting fodder before. The herder group “…” obtained on-site demonstration training and instruction from a fodder expert, who conducted demonstration training in the community just before the plantation season in 2012.  The head of soum Livestock Unit was enthusiastic about the future of the fodder production: “We believe that livestock fodder production will grow in our soum, as this case served as a pilot and results of 2012 are demonstrated well and we received good lessons. This year there are couple of other groups starting plantation of fodder crops in a small scale.”

Another herder group who was assisted by provision of greenhouse and drip irrigation produced in 2012 more than 2 tons of potato and other crops and shared: “This year we installed a greenhouse and planted new vegetable tomato, cucumber and melon. There are 8 families in our group and we are forming a cooperative. Growing vegetable in parallel with herding helps a lot to our household income, we consume what we harvested and last fall we sold surplus to local school, preschool. Believe this fall we will reap more.”

Having more access to the external inputs from the ALP, herder groups were able to build up capacity and awareness that served as incentives to act as a group in livelihood development activities. Before the project began, the local government and herders interacted occasionally during the soum or bag[1] assembly meeting. When after the project commencement, herder groups activities become active and they got more united in presenting their ideas and plans to the local government and project.  When herder groups had an opportunity for support of their livelihood development plans, it enabled them to have more meaningful dialogue and discussion with each other, local government officials and experts. 

[1] Bag – the smallest administrative unit. Shinejinst soum is divided into 4 bags.

Multi-stakeholder participation

It was impossible for the herders to implement the above mentioned activities and small-scale community projects independently, but in collaboration and with support from other collaborators. One of the key noticeable outcome of ALP in this soum was partnership development and implementation of several collaborative efforts between four main stakeholders (Figure 1).

There was a small, but effective working partnership established among soum officials, external experts, herders and ALP staff. They collaborated from planning stage to designing and until implementing various community-driven small-scale livelihood projects. Fundamental to collaboration between the project, community, experts and local government was the understanding of mutual concerns and interests. The local officials as well as group herders acknowledged ALP project as a grounded community-oriented initiative that encouraged them to share their ideas, challenges and propose solutions openly.

Before the project herders had limited possibilities to benefit from specialized training programs in alternative livelihood, risk management and fodder production. They were also less aware about possibilities and opportunities that can benefit to their income and livelihood.  When herders organized as groups they combined not only their individual interests and needs into one common goal, but also they became more accessible to local government and other interested organizations for collaboration and networking.

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