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Herders mitigate climate challenges by minimizing damage through estabilishing community-based organizations

Dzud in Mongolia
A herder household in Dzud As of February 2024, a total of 80% of the country is in a “Dzud” weather disaster, with Iron/Glass Dzud hitting regions covering 58 soums, across 13 provinces. © B.Byamba-Ochir, MPA

Approximately 240,000 herders are affected by a severe dzud, which is an extreme winter event with cold snap, heavy snowfall, and strong storms in Mongolia. As of the 14th of March, it leads to the loss of 3,9 million livestock.

With the snowstorm covering 80 percent of Mongolia’s total area, including 60 percent heavily blanketed in snow, herders found themselves in a tough situation, lacking manpower and unsure when they would uncover pastures buried under snow and ice.

According to T.Dashzeveg, a herder from Norovlin soum, Khentii province, who has been successfully navigating climate challenges with minimal damage, she sees opportunities to mitigate the risk and impact of severe weather conditions.

As of 14 March 2024, the loss of livestock reached 3.9 million, an 86% increase compared to the same period last year due to dzud.
Dzud, Mongolia As of 14 March 2024, the loss of livestock reached 3.9 million, an 86% increase compared to the same period last year due to dzud. © B.Byamba-Ochir, MPA

After completing her degree in tourism management in 2009 at the University of Ulaanbaatar, she settled in her province to pursue a life as a herder. Over the past decade, she expanded her livestock to a thousand head, started a family, and was elected as the leader of the “Aravt” bagh in her region.

In 2018, a field survey conducted in Norovlin soum revealed that 39 percent of the total area was affected by overgrazing, with 6.6 percent classified as severely overgrazed and 2.5 percent as moderately overgrazed.

T.Dashzeveg initiated discussions with members of her team on protecting lands and pastures, as they observed an increase in winter migration with herds across her soum land three years ago. In 2021, she acquired legal knowledge regarding natural resources management from an expert in the “Community-led conservation” project of The Nature Conservancy, an international environmental organization.

Having gained knowledge and understanding of Mongolia’s most abundant natural resource, the grasslands, she founded the “Sonor” community-based organization, representing 12 herder families. She embarked on efforts to acknowledge the vital role of local communities in conservation endeavors.

A leader of Community - based organization, Norovlin, Khentii province
Women herder A leader of Community - based organization, Norovlin, Khentii province © TNC

She emphasizes, “Herders are the custodians of their land, which is closest to them. In our Norovlin soum, we prioritize environmental protection and the restoration of our pastures through winter and spring migrations, preserving our traditions. Thanks to these efforts, our pastures remain healthy, with numerous plant species preserved on them.”

Temperatures drop below freezing for 200-220 days annually in the territory of Norovlin soum. According to the development plan for the soum territory, 48.9 percent or 267,751.9 hectares of the total grassland area of the soum, predominantly covered by forests and dry fields, is utilized as pure pastures. The central region of the entire soum territory is covered by dark brown soil, averaging 21 cm in thickness, while in the lowlands of Ulz River valley and the southern part of the soum, brown soil predominates, making it particularly suitable for pastures.

According to B.Gankhuyag, a Community Development Officer of Community-Led Conservation project in Mongolia, the involvement of local residents in protecting their pastures from degradation and maintaining grass residues during winter and spring plays crucial roles in mitigating the risks posed by severe weather conditions.

Khentii province is one of five provinces that have introduced a “Community-based organization” (CBO) for natural resource management. Currently, there are over 90 CBOs established across nine soums, allowing significant involvement and leadership of herders in the effective management of their pastures. At the national level, over 5,600 herder families have established 281 partnerships for collective natural resource management in 28 soums across 5 provinces.

“This year, winter migrations named otor with herds significantly increased. Even more herds migrated from nearby soums. We have started making demands on migrating herders through our partnership, which is also a new and learning experience for them. We have established agreements with these herders and commenced receiving donations for the use of pastures. Each herder family donates 1-2 million MNT, contributing to a fund aimed at improving the livelihoods of bagh residents and safeguarding nature,” says the CBO leader.

Quote: T.Dashzeveg

Prior to establishing a CBO, herders lacked awareness of existing laws on protecting our pastures. Through the creation of the CBO, we are actively utilizing legal frameworks and undertaking necessary paperwork. The close collaboration among herders is crucial to conserving our rangeland.

Herder and leader of the CBO in Khentii province

In addition to conserving the rangeland, both the “Sonor” CBO and the soum’s bagh are actively combating poaching activities to protect their land.

The CBO leader says, “Our territory is abundant with marmots and antelopes. Unfortunately, poaching has been increasing in recent years, becoming almost a daily occurrence. Hunting activities escalate significantly during summer festivals. At times, we confront strangers carrying guns to conduct checks and inquiries. Further, we decided to use drone cameras. All local residents are committed conservationists.” She then shares her plans for the future.

The “Eternal Mongolia” Project Finance for Permanence aims to secure sustainable management of natural resources at least in +34 million ha of high biodiversity areas across Mongolia, supporting at least 24,000 herder households and building on an improved policy environment and enabling conditions for community-based natural resource management.