Enhancing adaptive capacity for livelihood security in rural area

Since livestock privatization in 1992, rural households’ income was primarily based on private livestock production. Across all country the total number of livestock gradually was growing from year to year until 2000. Figure 2 illustrates changes in the total number of livestock in Sant in the period of 1990-2011.  According to this graph, there was a missive death of livestock in 2000 and 2009 and this trend is attributed to the devastating dzud of 2000-2002 and 2009-2010.

Herders in Sant soum suffered through repeated severe dzud in consecutive years of 2000-2002 and 2009-2010. The dzud of 2009-2010 was characterized by prolonged freezing temperatures and deeper than normal snow cover in much of the country.  Temperatures reached below -40oC in 19 of 21 aimag and snow depths ranged from 20-200cm (Sternberg 2010).  According to the UN ReliefWeb fact sheet, as of May 2010, 8.5 million livestock had died, approximately 20% of the country’s livestock population, affecting 769,000 people or 28% of Mongolia’s human population. 


  • Sant soum center is located 100 km south of Uvurkhangai province center and about 380 km west from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. The territory of Sant soum is 258,441 ha and borders with five soums from Uvurkhangai and two from Dundgobi: Ulziit, Bayangol, Zuunbayanulaan, Yesunzuil, Saikhan-Ovoo and Erdenedalai.
  • Sant soum center is located 100 km south of Uvurkhangai province center and about 380 km west from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. The territory of Sant soum is 258,441 ha and borders with five soums from Uvurkhangai and two from Dundgobi: Ulziit, Bayangol, Zuunbayanulaan, Yesunzuil, Saikhan-Ovoo and Erdenedalai
  • Alternative Livelihood Project implemented by UNDP directly in Sant soum with a specific objective to provide the target communities with income generation opportunities through community-based organizations, in order to empower their economic security and sustain their livelihood. The current case study examines what human security approaches were applied that contribute in achieving principles of human security in Sant soum that was hardly hit by the dzud of 2009-2010.
  • Results demonstrate that inputs provided by ALP in the period of two years from March 2011- May 2012 contributed in building of income generating skills and development of adaptive capacity among herder communities. As a result number of local-scale entrepreneurship was developed on wool processing and production of felt products, establishment of local tailor-shops, development of small-scale production of vegetable and livestock fodder crops. In addition, capacity for partnership and collaboration developed among herders as a result of group promotion and development training activities. The most importantly, the project facilitated needed changes to address key components of human security that are food, livelihood, personal and economic security.

In Sant soum, during the dzud of 2009-2010 the total number of livestock decreased from 216,000 in December 2009 to 67,000 in June 2010. This dzud 2009-2010 has tremendously affected herders’ livelihood situations and according to Sant soum dzud report 210 herder families lost all of their livestock that significantly reducing households’ income and many households fell below the poverty line.

 Figure 2. Changes in the total number of livestock in Sant soum for the period of 1990-2010 (source: Statistical Yearbooks of Uvurkhangai Aimag, 1996, 2002, 2011)

In addition to dzud, ongoing effects of transition to market economy and instable market price caused many herders look for some other living opportunities by moving to aimag center and Ulaanbaatar city. The number of herder households is keep dropping from 857 in 2009 to 649 in 2012 (Figure 1).

Interventions and results

As a response to 2009-2010 dzud disaster UNDP Mongolia directly implemented the Alternative Livelihood Project in Sant soum of Uvurkhangai 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.

Establishment of a tailor-shop in the soum

 Figure 1. Changes in the total number of households and number of herder households from 2003-2012 in Sant soum, Uvurkhangai (source: Statistical Yearbooks of Uvurkhangai Aimag, 2002, 2011)

A group of women in Sant decided to start a small tailor-shop in the soum center and upon their request ALP supported them by providing two different types of several sewing machines. Women from the group benefited also from the training conducted by experts to improve sewing skills to cut and prepare different clothing materials to produce final products. A leader of this women group has adequate knowledge and experience in sewing and she is providing on-job training to the members of her group. She mentioned that: “Many of the women in our group are beginners and they learn quickly. Now we produce cover for the ger (traditional felt shelter), as this doesn’t require special sewing skills, but a lot demand for it.”

In the first year, this group focused on developing sewing knowledge and skills as well as developing ability to operate sewing machines. Using their skills they started to produce Mongolian traditional costumes as this was an area where they were able to make a good return. However, a group leader described her challenges and future perspectives as: “It is necessary to understand what real market demand is, and also we really need to have a good collaboration and cooperation amongst the members of the group. Our lesson is to pay more attention to improve our access to markets by meeting the quality and design standards.”

As a result of operating this tailor-shop for more than a year, women were able to identify the most marketable product they can produce with current level of expertise that has a good local market. In addition, they described that the tailor-shop can provide repair services including pants hemming, zipper installation, patches and badges installation. To expand their operation, the women group applied for a soft loan from the soum development local fund and was able to obtain a loan of about 10 million tugrug for three years.  By supporting the women group to start tailor-shop, ALP initiated a good start to provide them with vocational training in tailoring and technical capacity building to enable to work as a group and become an entrepreneur.

Greenhouse, drip-irrigation system installation

To diversify sources of food, group herders benefited from obtaining gardening training on the cultivation of potato and other root crops, insect control, fertilization and irrigation. 

This initiative led them to start small scale gardening for household consumption purposes. There was another group established in the soum center called “Sonor” that is specialized in vegetable production and ALP supported this group by providing them a polyvinyl greenhouse with steel carcasses of about 20x6m and water saving drip-irrigation system. In desert steppe region where the water for irrigation is a main challenge, drip irrigation system demonstrated to be the most appropriate technology to save water and working force. A member of this group described his experience from the previous year as: “We consumed vegetable that we harvested last year and this year we plan to sell some of our produces to local market.”

Advanced skill development in hand-made felt boots and items production by improving design, processing technology

Upon the request from herder groups a series of training programs in wool processing and felt making organized in Sant soum. Felt products’ training was in part innovative, because it focused on improving existing skills and developing advanced skills to produce more quality products. Training participants described that as a result of this training they were able to improve products design and wool processing technology: “Two people from our group enrolled in the training course and worked in the wool felt factory in Ulaanbaatar for about two month."

According to the focus group discussion, several informants mentioned that production of felt handicrafts, felt boots and other items became a part of their income sources.  A women leader from “Erdene-Ovoo” herder group described that she used sheep wool to make felt mittens, socks and sell them not only in the local but also in aimag markets and shared her experience as: “It is possible to produce many things from one kg of wool. Over hundred grams of wool is required to make warm winter socks and in the winter warm socks are sold very well.” As of May 2013 felt craft producers 

Production of felt matraces, ger dwelling felts for insulation, Mongolian carpets

Collective action through strengthening herder institutions

In Sant soum, UNDP Mongolia implemented “Sustainable Grassland Management” project in 2003-2008. The project facilitated formation of herder community-based organizations with the purpose of improving pastureland ecological status in parallel with improving the herders’ livelihoods. As result of this project, several herder groups were established in Sant soum that were main partners and collaborators for the ALP.  Previously formed herder groups were enthusiastic to cooperate with ALP, as they understood benefits of the innovative knowledge and practices that donor projects bring to the community. Focus group informants as well as local government officials referred to the importance of collective action that group members undertake together. 

As part of the Sustainable Grassland Management project, there were 6 herder groups established and ALP project continued collaboration with them by involving them in group and cooperative formation educational training and experience sharing exposure tours. 

Linking herders to the market

The main contribution of the ALP is providing opportunities for herder groups to establish linkages to markets outside the soum. The ALP created avenues for herders to have exposure trips to other regions to learn experiences of other groups and participate to the exhibition and open markets fairs. These exposure events allowed groups to have some comparative experience and knowledge by learning from the peers’ good practices and skills. 

When exhibitions and trade fairs occurred, herder groups were invited to display and sell their products made from camel and sheep wool and various dairy products.  For example, in late summer of 2012 the group herders from “Sonor” group collected the products from each family in the group and group representatives participated in an exhibition fair organized in Uvurkhangai provincial center.  They had about 500 kg of dairy products that were immediately sold out. 

Experience of “Erdene-Ovoo” herder group in processing sheep wool to produce felt and felt products has been recognized as the good practice by the ALP. The members of this group obtained initial skills and knowledge from the “Sustainable Grassland Management” project and learned technology and skills of producing more than 10 types of hand-made felt products, including felt mittens, socks, vests, slippers, clogs, winter boots and mats. These products are now popular for its quality to be warm and firm during the cold seasons. Especially winter felt boots received a wide-spread reputation for being light, warm and dry and herders are happy to wear them, as these boots are made from natural wool material without any added chemicals. With support from ALP this group obtained advanced technology training to improve design and quality. In addition, the member of the group enrolled in the business development and cooperative management training programs. 

Risk management, disaster preparedness

Herders from “Bumba” group were badly affected by the 2000-2002 dzud and the lessons from this experience have influenced their preparations for and their ability to respond during the most recent disaster in 2009-2010. A leader of this group said that, “herders in our group established a small area for reserve pasture of about 1 ha each family by fencing it and kept it from summer and fall grazing for several years, the December of 2009 the forage in the reserve pasture was very thick and almost one meter high and we used it in the spring.” 

Because of the semi-dry rangeland ecosystem, it is impossible to harvest enough hay for livestock feeding in the winter and therefore setting aside reserve pasture for grazing during the winter blizzards and other emergency condition is one of the adaptive management practices instituted by herders from “Bumba” group.  The group leader P. Urtnasan of “Bumba” herder group explained benefits of having reserve areas during bad weather: “In the fall we harvest good amount of hay from this pasture and in the spring we keep our offsprings and weak female livestock during the snowstorms.”

Fodder production was combined with herding at household and herder group levels that set an example and demonstration for other herders in the community. During the collective period, fodder was subsidized by the collective administration and nowadays when herders themselves start producing fodder crops it enhances their disaster preparedness capacity.

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