Ulaanbaatar, July 08, 2009 – Mongolian herds will be at greater risk of severe weather conditions if growing livestock populations and deteriorating pastureland is not reversed.
Pastureland plots in the Forest Steppe region of Origih bag, Bulnai soum, Zavkhan aimag and the desert in Tsetseg-nuur bag, Erdene soum, Gobi Altai aimag have been measured for change in condition and a team of experts supported by the World Bank have found it to be in an alarming decline.
Measurement of both desert and forest zone indicated that the total number of plant species comprising forage declined by more than 33% over 11 years and ground surface cover of bare soil and rock had increased while vegetation and plant litter cover decreased.
The plant species preferred by livestock were less abundant on all seasonal pastures for the desert zone while the relative composition of preferred, desirable, undesirable and toxic plant species was unchanged for the forest steppe zone.
As for pasture productivity, it has declined substantially in both zones on winter and transitional pastures while it slightly increased on summer pasture due to increased presence of plant species livestock did not eat (forest steppe zone) and less water in transitional pasture.
The team led by Dr. Dennis Sheehy of the US-based International Center for the Advancement of Pastoral Systems and Dr. Dalkhaijav Damiran of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada say the increase in livestock numbers and goat dominance in herds combined with a drier climate were detrimental to available pasture in these regions.
“The decline in the quality of pastureland in Mongolia is of great concern” Dr. Sheehy said. “If the current trend continues, pastureland and herds may be more vulnerable to dzud and drought. The growing number of goats has been a major reason behind this but there is also the general problem of too many livestock and the added impact of climate warming.”
“Local officials and herders have reported that a drier climate is reducing pasture quality and decreasing livestock production. Precipitation is lower; lakes, streams and springs are drying up; and vegetation productivity is decreasing.”
Dr. D. Dalkhaijav said the trend would continue as long as there was a poor species balance in herd structure. “The drop in cashmere prices might make it a good time to reduce the number of goats in a herd” he said. “Investigation into alternative water sources such as water distribution systems would also improve pasture because it would reduce pressure on winter and summer pasturelands and ensure water sources are wildlife accessible throughout the year.”
The initial results also suggest future efforts to reverse pastureland degradation should be implemented as a cooperative program involving both users and administrators. The study team concluded that improving capacity of government staff at the sum level to manage pasturelands, application of pasture improvement and livestock grazing management strategies, and wildlife conservation were necessary components of a pastureland rehabilitation program.
This new study – supported by the World Bank’s Netherlands-Mongolia Trust Fund for Environmental Reform (NEMO) - continues work supported by the Asian Development Bank more than a decade ago which measured 114 ecological macro-plots in four representative Mongolian ecological zones. Work will continue this year in Zavkhan aimag and Tuv aimag and the final report is expected to be finalized at the end of this year.