AMUR-HEILONG RIVER BASIN

 

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Land use
Agriculture in Eastern Mongolia
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Agricultural development in Eastern Mongolia

Animal husbandry accounts for approximately 70 percent of national agricultural production but productivity of natural pastures is low (0.3 ton/hectare) due to the naturally dry climate and long history of poor grazing practice. Livestock number approximately 30 million head, all of which are vulnerable to natural disasters. In 1999-2000 more than three million head were lost to disease and in winter 2001, an additional 0.6 million head were lost to disease.

The per capita area of agricultural land has been in steady decline nationwide due to population growth. It fell from 242 hectares per capita in 1919 to 64 hectares in 1997. The nationwide total conversion of pasture to cropland peaked in 1990 at 1,385,000 hectares.

From May 2003 land privatization began in Mongolia with an allowance to each urban family of 0.07 hectares. Rural households were allotted from 0.35 to 0.5 hectare. If all 550,000 households of the country claim their land allotment, this would account only for 0.9 percent of the total land area of the country. Around 80 percent of nation-wide croplands produce grains (primarily wheat) at an average yield of one ton/hectare (1998). The remaining 20 percent produces forage crops at an average yield of three tons/hectare, or ten times that of pasture.

From 1990 there has been a continuous shortage of grain because of economic reform and mismanagement. New private farms cannot secure loans or technical assistance; they also lack management personnel. Yield per unit area, acreage of cultivated land, and total production have all declined. As a result, agricultural production in Mongolia declined from 1990 to 2000. In 1995-7 arable land used for grain production did not exceed 12 percent of total arable land. From 1989 to 2000 total wheat production fell from 690,000 to 200,000 tons. Crop cultivation is confined to river valleys and production could be enhanced by irrigation if funding were available to install systems.

Table Agriculture land categories in the Mongolia basin

Land use categories

Total

(‘000 ha)

Percent

Pasture land

25,139

94

Hay production

1,377

5

Abandoned cropland

106

0.4

Croplands

77

0.3

Timber forest

0.1

<0.1

Agriculture infrastructure

4

0.1

 

26,703

100

Source: NSO. Mongolia Statistical Yearbook 2005

 

Twelve percent of the total crop land of Mongolia is located in the eastern region. In previous years a maximum of 183,000 hectares of eastern Mongolia were used for cultivating crops. Today only 45 percent of this total is farmed . Since the beginning of the economic transition to a market economy, grain production declined by 84 percent from 103,570 tons in 1990 to 14,692 tons in 2005. All farming areas are located in the basins of the Kherlen, Onon, and Ulz Rivers .

Along the Ulz River , the Buriat have a long tradition of cultivating vegetables for household consumption. Under the government's green revolution program and new land laws that allow households to own land for farming, the number of households growing vegetables has increased.

 

Nomadic grazing and overgrazing

Herders have adapted to the various ecosystems of this area (forest, meadow steppe, and dry steppe) by developing nomadic grazing systems which, if properly managed, can result in sustainable use of the land. There are two major patterns of herder and livestock movement, one in the northern part of the region and one in the south.

The main pattern of movement in the north is camping during winter and spring seasons on the banks of major rivers such as the Kherlen, Onon, or Ulz, or on the slopes of medium and low mountains at 1000-1200 m above sea level. Herders move to higher elevations in the open valleys of the rivers in summer and autumn (1300-1400 m). The winter/spring and summer/autumn camping grounds are very near, separated by an average distance of only 10 km. The short distance separating the seasonal ranges is compensated by the storage of hay for winter and spring seasons. Almost every herding household has equipment for cutting hay and claims a hay meadow near the winter and spring shelters.

The second type of movement pattern, used in the southern region is based on using the landscape to protect livestock from strong winds especially in winter and spring. The main winter and spring grounds are located on the southern slopes of the hilly areas at elevations of 1000-1100 m above sea level. In summer the herders move to the open steppe at elevations of 900-1000 m where winds are normally calm. In autumn, herders move to the south to reach the steppe and dry pasture which are not subject to early snow falls. The distance between the winter-spring camp and the summer-autumn camp averages 40-50 km.

In general, the movements of the herders in eastern aimag s do not change as much by season as do those of the Mongols. However, in some cases the herders shift to more distant locations or increase frequency of movements. This can be explained by low numbers of livestock per household and also the increasing tendency of herders to opt for a more sedentary and comfortable living.

The mid and low mountain valleys and river valleys are the main types of pasture in the steppes. Surveys by national specialists showed pasture yields per hectare of 350 - 470 kg per year. This is around 50 percent higher than yields in other economic regions of Mongolia . However, only 30-63 percent of pasture capacity is used. Water supply for livestock is a determining factor for the use and productivity of grazing lands. Therefore, pastures in the larger river valleys that are near streams, springs, lakes, ponds, and wells are intensively grazed almost year-round.

Some pastures are heavily overgrazed due to current socio-economic conditions. Reduction of social service outreach to rural areas and the concentration of services in major settlements have caused the nomadic population movement patterns to center around settlements such as Choibalsan, Ondorkhaan, and Sukhbaatar. Similar concentrations are found around Baganuur, Berkh, and the main transport line which connects Choibalsan with Ulaanbaatar . The concentration of services and herders in village centers has resulted in greater areas of overgrazing at these locations. Of the total pastoral land 12 percent is grazed at low intensity, 67 percent at moderate intensity, 18 percent is heavily overgrazed and three percent of the pastoral land is severely overgrazed.


Livestock and composition of herd

Similar to other regions of Mongolia , the economy of the Mongolian Amur-Heilong River basin is based on export of agricultural products. This economic sector involves 45 percent of the labor force compared with the national average of 38 percent.

The eastern region has always had one of the lowest counts of livestock when compared to other regional averages. This is one reason that biodiversity has not been degraded by livestock grazing. Low densities of livestock have helped to conserve grasslands of the Mongolian Amur-Heilong basin in comparison with pastures in other regions of the country. Numbers of livestock have been stable or slightly increasing across the eastern region.

Table .Livestock numbers ('000 head)

Aimag

1990

1995

2000

2005

Dornod

944

591

826

978

Sukhbaatar

1,005

1,016

1,493

517

Khentii

1,499

1,101

1,462

1,690

Tov*

109

127

164

197

Total

3,556

2,835

3,945

3,381

* includes four eastern soum s only

Source: NSO. Mongolia Statistical Yearbook 2005

 

Herd structure has changed somewhat due to economic pressures, and the general nationwide trend is low but increasing numbers of livestock. Only the camel and cattle populations remained unchanged over recent years. Within the last 10 years the number of horses increased by 21 percent, sheep by 31 percent and goats by 162 percent. Such a rapid increase of goats is explained by increasing demand for high priced cashmere.

However, the herd structure is still dominated by sheep (47 percent) which adapt better to this region than do goats. Due to ecological conditions, the northern part of the eastern region is better suited to a livestock economy mainly based on cattle and sheep, while the southern part of the region is best suited for producing sheep. The eastern region has nearly eight percent of all camels in Mongolia , 18 percent of cattle, 18 percent horses, 13 percent of sheep, and eight percent of goats.


Table. Livestock numbers (‘000) in core aimag s (2005)

 

Camel

Horse

Cattle

Sheep

Goat

Total

Dornod

6.3

128.7

99.8

469.9

273.7

978.5

Sukhbaatar*

4.3

74

53

219.8

165.8

516.8

Khentii

5.1

171.0

148.2

782.3

583.1

1689.7

Tuv **

0.5

25.2

16.2

119.2

72.4

233.5

Total

16.2

398.9

317.2

1591.2

1095

3418.5

In percent

0.5 percent

11.6 percent

9.3 percent

46.5 percent

32.0 percent

100 percent

* includes northern five soums only

**includes eastern four soums only

Source: NSO. Mongolia Statistical Yearbook 2005

 

Production of hay at the household level is traditional in this region. After the collapse of the communal hay production system, herders began to prepare and store hay on a household basis. Hay is used to feed livestock mainly in winter and spring to help weak animals survive the harsh weather conditions and concomitant limited forage availability.

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Maps:

Typical herder camp.Dornod. (Photo by E.Simonov)

Also look:

Land-use trends:

General trends in land-use

Recent changes in land-use in three countries

 

Agriculture:

Amur Agriculture

Agricultural development in Northeast China

Russian agriculture

Russian agricultural land and production in RFE-tables

Northeast Asia cooperation in agriculture

Environmental impacts of argiculture

Land degradation and desertification

Conversion of wildlands to farmland

 

Forestry:

Timber harvest in the Russian Far East

Salmon vs forestry

Major human-induced impacts on forest ecosystems of RFE (table)

Timber trade

 

Other land-use issues:

Fire

Nature tourism in the Amur/Heilong River Basin

Transport infrastructure impacts

Oil & gas Basin

Oil & gas impacts

Russian mining

Mongolian mining

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