The UB Post



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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