Special Report: FAO/WFP Crop and Livestock Assessment Mission to Mongolia
A severe drought in mid-2017 gravely affected large agricultural producing areas and pasture rangelands.
The 2017 production of wheat, the country's main staple food, is forecast at 231 000 tonnes, almost half of last year’s high level and more than 40 percent lower than the average of the previous five years. The impact on other crops, including potatoes, barley, oats and buckwheat, was also severe.
Reduced pastureland resulted in below-average livestock body conditions. The impact on livestock is further compounded by the drought-reduced hay and fodder availability, which is estimated at 53 million tonnes, the lowest level since 2007. These conditions raise serious concerns over the occurrence of a dzud1 event in the winter/spring months.
In October, prices of meat products were well below their levels a year earlier, mainly due to increased herders’ sales on fears of animal losses during the winter/spring months and the need of buying hay to sustain remaining animals.
Wheat import requirements in the 2017/18 marketing year (October/September) are forecast at about 230 000 tonnes, considerably above the five-year average. It is expected that required imports will be fully covered by commercial purchases.
With the decrease in crop production, many farmers were unable to repay debts and have reduced hiring of seasonal labour - eliminating the primary income source for the season for many wage labour households.
Poor pasture land conditions have forced herders to find alternative fodder sources by traveling long distances to collect hay and/or procuring hay at higher than usual prices.
With reduced meat prices, herders must decide between selling at a lower than normal price or maintaining their animals through the winter.
Access to credit is crucial for many households in the winter and spring when incomes are reduced.
Herder households with less than 200 animals do not have sufficient collateral to receive a loan.
Previous dzud events have led to loss of livelihoods and mass migration to urban ger districts where infrastructure, public services are limited, and poverty and food insecurity rates are high, particularly in the winter and spring.
An FAO/WFP Crop and Livestock Assessment Mission visited Mongolia from 15 to 28 October 2017, prompted by the prolonged drought from mid-May to end-July that sharply reduced the 2017 crop output and depleted rangeland conditions, raising serious concerns over the impact on the livestock ahead of the winter/spring period.
The Mission estimated the impact of the dry weather on the 2017 wheat, potatoes and vegetable production and forecast the expected wheat deficit for 2017/18 marketing year (October/September). The Mission assessed also the impact of the dry weather on hay production and fodder supplies for the livestock sector for the forthcoming winter/spring months, up to April 2018. Furthermore, the mission assessed the impact of the drought on households, their coping strategies and contingency plans in view of the coming winter.
The Mission visited seven of Mongolia’s 21 provinces in Khangai and Central regions. The team was composed by three international staff from FAO/WFP and national agricultural officers.
Prior to departing to the field, the Mission was briefed on current crop production and livestock performance as well as general macroeconomic context by several national and international institutions and obtained national and province-wise data on precipitation, crop production and livestock numbers, prices, inputs availability and trade. Institutions visited were the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry (MoFALI), the Parliament House, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the National Statistics Office (NSO), the Meat Producers Association, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Labour (MSWL).
The Mission obtained MoFALI data at provincial and district level of crop harvested area, yield and production estimates. During the field work, obtained data was cross-checked against information provided by farmers, including smallholders and large scale wheat producers, and against Vegetation Health Index (VHI) images, estimated rainfall and other remotely sensed meteorological data provided by FAO/GIEWS. Visits to food markets with interviews with traders were also conducted. The Mission conducted structured interviews with a number of herders and farmers to assess the impact of the drought and analyse households’ winter preparedness and coping strategies ahead of the winter/spring.
In 2017, a prolonged period of severe dry weather between mid-May and end of July, intensified by extreme high temperatures in June, damaged large swatches of cropped areas and caused a severe deterioration of pastures and rangeland conditions. An estimated 80 percent of the country was affected by drought conditions. This resulted in severe yield and area losses of the 2017 crops, including wheat, potatoes, barley, oats and buckwheat. The 2017 wheat production is estimated at about 231 000 tonnes, almost half of last year’s high level and over 40 percent less than the five-year average. Similarly, potatoes output is estimated at about 117 000 tonnes, 23 percent less than in 2016 and 36 percent below the previous five-year average.
The wheat import requirements in 2017/18 marketing year are forecast at about 230 000 tonnes, considerably above the five-year average and close to the 2015/16 level, when imports reached 215 000 tonnes in response to a drought-reduced wheat output. Imports are expected to be fully covered by commercial purchases.
Drought also caused a severe deterioration of pasture conditions, which prevented livestock to gain fat stores and strengthen core muscle strength, critical to overcome the normally harsh winter/spring months. According to MoFALI data, as of November 2017, overall livestock body condition is 14 percent below average. Body conditions were reported to be particularly poor in Khangai and Central regions’ provinces. Drought-reduced hay and fodder availabilities, coupled with weak livestock conditions, rise serious concerns over the impact of the winter/spring months on livestock and livelihoods.
Retail prices of wheat flour have remained stable in recent months, but are expected to increase in early 2018 due to reduced availability of wheat grains following the 2017 severely reduced output. In October, prices of meat products were reportedly lower than a year earlier, due to poor livestock body conditions and increase of distressed sales of animals in most markets. Most herders have decided to sell larger amounts of livestock, even at lower prices, ahead of further deterioration of their body conditions and high probability of increased mortality during winter/spring months. By contrast, prices of dairy products are reportedly higher than in 2016, mainly due to reduced animal productivity due to drought.
The reduced crop production resulted in widespread indebtedness of farmers, who were forced to drastically reduce the use of seasonal wage labour. As a consequence, the loss of wage labour opportunities left a significant number of households who live in wheat producing areas with reduced employment and limited alternative sources of income.
Harsh winters following summer droughts significantly increase risks for herders to lose their animals. As past events have demonstrated, the loss of livestock assets is likely to determine large migration movements into urban areas in search for economic support. Migratory groups often settle in suburban areas of capital city Ulaanbaatar, known as ger, where there are virtually no infrastructures and public services, and face food security issues, particularly during the winter periods.