Agri­cul­tural prac­tices such as an­i­mal hus­bandry are es­sen­tial to Mon­go­lian cul­ture and way of life. It is also a sub­stan­tial part of the econ­omy; cur­rently, agri­cul­ture em­ploys one third of the work­force, and gen­er­ates more than 10 per­cent of GDP. How­ever, that is only a small por­tion of its un­tapped po­ten­tial. With its enor­mous heads of live­stock, Mon­go­lia has the means to boost its econ­omy through the meat in­dus­try, dairy food pro­cess­ing, cash­mere wool, and an­i­mal skin prod­ucts. Ac­cord­ing to Asian De­vel­op­ment Blog, an­i­mal hus­bandry ac­counts for 80 per­cent of the coun­try’s agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. The 20 per­cent non-an­i­mal re­lated pro­duce in­cludes corn, wheat, bar­ley, sea buck­thorn, pine nuts, and honey.

In 2016, the govern­ment es­ti­mated the po­ten­tial an­nual meat ex­port to reach one bil­lion MNT. MICC, a lead­ing lo­cal in­vest­ment bank, es­ti­mates that Mon­go­lia’s true po­ten­tial is 700,000 tons of an­nual meat ex­ports. With pow­er­house neigh­bors, ac­ces­si­bil­ity into ex­port mar­kets is a vivid pos­si­bil­ity. Rus­sia pur­chased 7,000 tons of beef and horses, China seeks to im­port 150,000 tons of meat, and Iran recently im­ported 4,000 tons of meat from Mon­go­lia last year. How­ever, Mon­go­lia only sells less than a tenth of its po­ten­tial for meat ex­ports.

Due to the harsh cli­mates and short grow­ing sea­son, cul­ti­va­tion of crops is not a pro­duc­tive op­tion to sig­nif­i­cantly stim­u­late the econ­omy. Cur­rently, sea buck­thorn is the most eco­nom­i­cally prof­itable - there are 37 sea buck­thorn fac­to­ries, and nearly one mil­lion USD worth of prod­ucts are ex­ported to Ja­pan, Sin­ga­pore, and Rus­sia an­nu­ally.

The chal­lenges that have de­layed the de­vel­op­ment of agribusi­ness are phy­tosan­i­tary is­sues, poor lo­gis­tics, and un­der­de­vel­oped tech­no­log­i­cal and pro­duc­tive ca­pac­i­ties. The ex­ist­ing pro­cess­ing plants need ex­ten­sive up­grad­ing to meet in­ter­na­tional qual­ity and san­i­tary stan­dards, and due to poor lo­gis­tics, trad­ing pro­ce­dures are in­ef­fi­cient. Another ma­jor chal­lenge in an­i­mal hus­bandry is the dzud, or se­vere win­ters Mon­go­lia has been fac­ing lately. Dur­ing dzud, sud­den short­age of an­i­mal fod­der and sub­se­quent es­ca­la­tion in an­i­mal deaths caused a sig­nif­i­cant set­back.

Eugene Lap­in­sky, the head of the an­i­mal hus­bandry and vet­eri­nary depart­ment at Rus­sia’s Na­tional Meat As­so­ci­a­tion, com­ments, “[In Mon­go­lia], the risk of live­stock con­tract­ing th­ese in­fec­tions is high, sim­ply due to pas­toral method of live­stock breed­ing.”

The main prob­lem con­strain­ing Mon­go­lia from reach­ing its true ex­port po­ten­tial are phy­tosan­i­tary is­sues. The govern­ment’s cur­rent an­nual bud­get of four mil­lion USD for vac­ci­na­tions is in­suf­fi­cient to ef­fec­tively com­bat an­i­mal re­lated dis­eases. Due to lack of in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized lab­o­ra­to­ries, Mon­go­lia does not suf­fi­ciently ful­fill the san­i­ta­tion re­quire­ments im­posed by cross-bor­der trad­ing. In ad­di­tion, in­vest­ing in an­i­mal nutri­tion, fod­der and ac­com­mo­da­tion on an in­dus­trial level is cru­cial to com­bat dzud. Al­though there are prob­lems as such in agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, for­eign in­vestors are still in­ter­ested in Mon­go­lia as it is known to have pro­duce that is high qual­ity, or­ganic, less pol­luted, and the least in­dus­tri­al­ized in the re­gion.

In the face of such con­straints, Mon­go­lia may be com­pelled to turn to in­dus­trial, highly in­ten­sive pro­duc­tion meth­ods that in­clude us­age of pes­ti­cides, hor­mones, an­tibi­otics, ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­isms and other var­i­ous agri­cul­tural chem­i­cals.

How­ever, it is cru­cial to keep in mind that Mon­go­lia’s sought af­ter niche qual­ity is the fact that its pro­duce is or­ganic, healthy, not in­dus­tri­al­ized and less pol­luted. Thus, in­vest­ing into pro­mo­tion of or­ganic de­vel­op­ment in the agribusi­ness is highly rec­om­mended.

Ju­lian Dierkes, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia who fo­cuses on Mon­go­lian af­fairs, con­sid­ers Mon­go­lia to have high-value po­ten­tial to pro­vide “less pol­luted, or­ganic” prod­ucts to its neigh­bors. Ju­lian sug­gests a coun­try­wide cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to de­mand all pro­duc­tion to be or­ganic. How­ever ide­al­is­tic that might sound to some peo­ple, it is a fea­si­ble op­tion since most of the coun­try’s agri­cul­tural prod­ucts are cur­rently or­ganic. There­fore, the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion would be nat­u­ral to most prod­ucts - meat, wool, cash­mere, sea buck­thorn, pine nuts and honey. Gobi Cash­mere is al­ready pro­mot­ing their all-or­ganic line, as well as skin­care/beauty brands such as Goo and Lhamour.

The coun­try­wide or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion may be of con­cern due to wide­spread an­i­mal dis­ease, and due to the fact that Mon­go­lia is yet to achieve in­ter­na­tional stan­dards of san­i­ta­tion. Thereby, there is a del­i­cate bal­ance to be struck be­tween or­ganic and in­dus­trial means of pro­duc­tion, since vac­ci­na­tions and other vet­eri­nary in­ter­ven­tions are nec­es­sary for san­i­ta­tion.

“All-coun­try or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion would make mar­ket­ing sim­pler as it could sim­ply ad­ver­tise all Mon­go­lian agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion as or­ganic, pos­si­bly rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of buy-in from a va­ri­ety of pro­duc­ers (and per­haps donors). Fi­nally, any mar­ket­ing of all Mon­go­lian agri­cul­tural prod­ucts as or­ganic would re­in­force the kind of eco-tourism that is reg­u­larly touted as a di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion pos­si­bil­ity for the Mon­go­lian econ­omy,” Dierkes writes on his blog.

Through ex­port­ing or­ganic agri­cul­tural prod­ucts to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, Mon­go­lia could sup­ply to en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious ur­ban mid­dle class con­sumers who would pay pre­mi­ums for such prod­ucts. Mon­go­lia could re­ally leap ahead and take on a healthy trend and it could highly ben­e­fit from brand­ing its or­ganic and fresh pro­duce. Tak­ing on a coun­try­wide trend is also a fea­si­ble op­tion since the pop­u­la­tion is so small.

Dis­cussing about a small coun­try tak­ing on a healthy, or­ganic trend brings to mind the ex­cep­tional suc­cess story of Cuba. With the col­lapse of the Soviet Bloc, and the US im­posed em­bargo, Cuba’s ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets van­ished overnight. Con­se­quently, Cuba en­tered its “Spe­cial Pe­riod” - when im­port plum­meted, and crop pro­duc­tion and fuel dras­ti­cally de­clined. In the face of black­outs for days, and loss of 20 pounds per per­son on av­er­age, the na­tion turned to or­ganic, agroe­co­log­i­cal meth­ods to boost food pro­duc­tion while re­duc­ing its de­pen­dency on in­puts of agro­chem­i­cals and petroleum.

By 2000, food avail­abil­ity in Cuba reached daily lev­els of 2,600 calo­ries and 68 grams of pro­tein, higher than the nec­es­sary av­er­age in­take. As of 2003, the Cuban Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture was us­ing less than 50 per­cent of the diesel fuel and less than 10 per­cent of the chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers it used in 1989. As of to­day, Cuba pro­duces all of its fresh fruits, veg­eta­bles, herbs, and much of its meat. In 1999, Cuba won the Right Liveli­hood Award of the Swedish Par­lia­ment for world ex­cel­lence in or­ganic agri­cul­ture. In 2006, the World Wildlife Fund de­clared Cuba to be the only sus­tain­able na­tion based on eco­log­i­cal foot­print and hu­man de­vel­op­ment in­dex.

To con­clude, it is pos­si­ble to achieve ex­cel­lence, meet in­ter­na­tional qual­ity and san­i­ta­tion stan­dards, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously be en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious. There is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that there is no al­ter­na­tive to in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment, how­ever, Cuba proved to be an ex­cep­tion and Mon­go­lia could learn from their suc­cess.

Al­though it was out of ne­ces­sity, Cuba was able to leap ahead in agri­cul­tural trends and con­se­quently be­come a self-suf­fi­cient, en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious, and al­most all or­ganic na­tion. How was it able to do so? Through sol­i­dar­ity and re­silience to­wards con­scious de­vel­op­ment. Through the same means, Mon­go­lia has great po­ten­tial to col­lec­tively unite to be­come an al­lor­ganic na­tion and set an ex­am­ple for its neigh­bors.

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