Protecting Mongolian Herders Against Livestock Losses

March 1, 2010

  • The livelihoods of Mongolia’s vast population of herders are extremely vulnerable to harsh winters
  • A Bank-supported livestock insurance program that protects herders from climate-related losses to their livestock is triggered when livestock losses are high
  • Other projects are helping herders manage through crises and sustain their traditional ways of life

Ulaanbaatar, MONGOLIA, March 2, 2010 — Mongolia’s semi-nomadic and nomadic herders make up approximately 30 per cent of the country’s population. These hardy and proud rural dwellers make a living by herding horses, camels, goats, cattle and sheep for milk, cashmere, meat and other livestock products. Maintaining a regular income is a constant battle as the climate in this semi-arid country is prone to severe, freezing winters and extremely dry summers.

In Mongolia, particularly bad winters are referred to as dzuds. Before this winter (December 2009 and January and February 2010), Mongolia had not experienced a severe dzud since 2002. In early December, the unusually cold weather dropped well below minus 25 Celsius and was accompanied by heavy and regular snowfalls. During January and February, cold northerly fronts from Siberia brought thick snow storms and temperatures as low as minus 48 Celsius.

In the past, dzuds have been responsible for the deaths of millions of livestock animals, resulting in huge economic losses for rural herders. January 2010 alone recorded over one million livestock deaths and the total figures for this year are predicted to be devastating.

Insurance to protect against devastating livestock losses

The World Bank’s highly innovative Index Based Livestock Insurance Project (IBLIP) provides herders with insurance through partnering with local private insurance companies. The insurance protects herders from climate-related losses to their livestock.

IBLIP was first introduced in 2006, with co-financing from the Japanese Government and the Financial Sector Reform and Strengthening (FIRST) Initiative. The pilot program is being implemented in four aimags. [An aimag is a provincial administration unit in Mongolia. Mongolia is divided into 21 aimags.]

In February 2010, the Bank approved a US$10 million scale up of the project. The scale up, co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and a pending grant from the Korean Government, allows the project to be expanded to additional aimags, with the potential to reach all 21 provinces by 2012.

In 2002, 36-year old herder Batbayar Davaadorj lost 30 per cent of his animals during the dzud. The area in which his livestock grazed was hardest hit. Other herders lost even more.

Kept warm by his knee-length wool and blue silk del, a traditional Mongolian costume commonly worn in the countryside, Batbayar explains he’s grateful for the help he’s now receiving through the insurance project.

"Of course this (insurance) is very important because the livestock is insured from natural disaster, so even though we have harsh winters, I am insured and that is important," said Batbayar.  Since 2006, more than 14,000 insurance policies have been sold to herder families in Mongolia.

Sheltering animals and providing water makes it easier to survive a harsh winter

The World Bank, European Union and Japanese Government-supported Second Sustainable Livelihoods Project (SLP) provides further assistance to herders and their families.

During the winter months, fresh running water becomes a sparse commodity, especially in regional areas. Batjargal, a herder from southern rural Mongolia, must travel seven kilometers from his family ger (yurt) to his closest water source, a small well that’s covered by ice for at least five months of every year.

The well, which Batjargal uses to sustain his family of six and 700 head of livestock, is a small square hole in the ground. Ice gathers around its entrance as temperatures stay well below minus 20 Celsius.

The well is shared by other local herders, who gather on the snow dappled steppe, chatting together as they watch their goats, camels and sheep eagerly drink the liquid before it turns to ice.

Batjargal is the reason why this well exists. For many years it lay in disrepair. Following a successful proposal submitted by Batjargal through the pastoral risk management component of the SLP the well was rehabilitated. He is pleased the well is now operational, but would like to see another well developed four or five kilometers away, closer to his home.