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Dublin conference learns how Mongolian herders have developed resilience to adverse climate events

Ms Bayarmaa Baljinnyam’s youngest daughter with the Baljinnyam family goat herd in Mongolia. Livestock in the country was decimated by the climate just over a decade ago. Photo: Bayarmaa Baljinnyam.When drought comes to Mongolia it can spell disaster for a country which counts 15 animals per person on its dusty plains so climate justice is far more than just a phrase for herders.

Risk reductions strategies applied in the Jinst area formed the basis for one of the case studies presented at a hunger, nutrition and climate justice conference in Dublin this week. The conference was exceptional in bringing together communities affected by climate change with key international and Irish decision makers.

Herders like Ms Bayarmaa Baljinnyam face drought linked to an average temperature rise of 1.6°C during the past 60 years. But they are also suffering the effects of increasingly severe ‘dzud’ (winter freeze) seasons which leave animals dead and families without food.

In a study co-authored with researcher Batkhishig Baival from the Nutag Action Research Institute, Ms Baljinnyam looked at the impact of the changing climate on the 2.87m population.

Predominantly a rural economy, Mongolia’s 44m camels, cattle, horses, sheep and goats are key to survival – sold for money and providing milk and skins for everyday use. In an economy in flux following the 20-year transition to the free market from the centralised Communist system, animals should be a point of stability.

So when herders in Jinst were hit with a devastating combination of climate issues resulting in a drop in livestock numbers from 125,185 in 2000 to just 24,104 in 2002, they realised they had to work together to resolve the problems.

By joining together formally the group had access to more help through a Mongolian Ministry of Food and Agriculture programme supported by the UN.

Simple changes including better storage of hay, a schedule for pasture which left land lying fallow on a rota, and repair of winter shelters helped the herders to deal with the changes. The report found other local authority programmes helped with expanding the crop system to avoid over-dependency.

Ms Baljinnyam herself said learning to make handicrafts has resulted in another stream of income for her family. She also uses sheep wool now to make mittens and socks for sale in the community.

She said: “A few hundred grams of wool is required to make warm winter socks. In our soum, one kilogramme of wool is 500 tug (about 27 cents) and about five to six products could be made from 1kg of wool. Normally in the winter warm socks are sold at about 2,000-2,500 tug (€1.30).”

The authors found that traditional coping strategies are no longer enough, but when mixed with support from the outside, it is possible to combat climate change – but not prevent it.

When a second dzud came in 2009-2010, the herders were better prepared and reported far less devastation.

The conference, part of Ireland’s EU presidency, was hosted by the Irish government and the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice (MRFCJ) in partnership with the World Food Programme.

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