Combating Hunger in Mongolia Using Urban Agriculture
Coordinator, Poverty Alleviation Study Centre, (PASC)
A Non-Governmental Organization
Central P.O.B. 275, Ulaanbaatar 13, Mongolia
Tel: (976-1) 310383
Fax: (976-1) 362990
We consider urban agriculture to be a truly important instrument for increasing food production in our cities, for providing better nutrition to the urban poor and for increasing their revenue.
In 1992, by order of the National Development Board, part of the Prime Minister's Office, we started a program to improve the food/nutrition situation in our country, giving special emphasis to the question of involving residents of urbanized areas in vegetable production.
Based on our program, 1993 was proclaimed "Food Year in Mongolia", however due to inefficient management by the government, the tasks to be accomplished were not implemented.
From 1994 to the present we have been running an Agricultural Consultancy Exhibition, out of our Metropolitan Library. This acts as a one-stop extension service centre where beginning gardeners can learn the basics of vegetable growing, and buy seeds/seedlings, fertilizers and tools for their garden.
In 1990/1991, 850 families grew vegetables in the city. This year (1996) the number has increased over 20 times reaching 21,000. More and more families have begun to realize that home gardening might be a way to improve their standard of living. Raising sheep and other traditional domesticated animals is no longer possible for many people.
However, major changes in the economy have meant that the food situation is not improving. On the contrary, the number of extremely poor families has been rapidly increasing as a result of high inflation.
During the "command rule period" all foodstuffs were delivered cheaply from state farms, and citizens were not permitted to grow vegetables to sell. Now a difficult transition period is occurring as the old central supply system is breaking down and puzzled people know very little about how to maintain a sustainable, small-scale agriculture business.
The recent "shock therapy" measures taken by the Government have created great hardship as prices for consumer goods rise while salaries remain unchanged. This coming winter and spring are expected to be extremely difficult for the poorest families. Average salaries are 30 USD while 1 kg of potato costs approximately $0.4, cabbage - $0.5, wheat flour - $0.4, meat - $0.7, and the prices for coal, wood, electricity, transportation, etc. are skyrocketing.
Mongolia is the only developing country whose territory is situated in extremely cold and dry weather conditions nearly 1,000m above sea level (Ulaanbaatar is at 1,300m). Wind erosion is a dangerous factor and in the spring, our "storm season", the wind speed frequently reaches 18 to 20m per second.
For 7-8 months of the year, our temperature stays below the freezing mark, and in spring and early summer when we need moisture most, precipitation is very rare.
The "Model Ger Area" sub-project ("ger" is a felt-covered traditional nomadic dwelling) is one of the most important components of our program. In 1994 ten poor families in the Northern part of the city suburb were given seeds, tools and on-the-spot consultation. In 1996 we expanded these activities to 10 different ger micro-districts in Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western parts. Teachers working there were selected from gardening experts living in these places, each having his own plot of cultivated land.
Responsibities of the teachers:
- they must grow plants on their own premises;
- they must organize training classes and allow visitors to come to see their garden;
- they must teach 10 of the poorest families in their area who want to start a garden;
- they must distribute and sell seeds/seedlings, fertilizer, tools and educational materials.
As well as staying in contact with each other, the voluntary teachers maintained continuous contact with the Exhibition Hall opened in the city's Central Library where they received, if necessary, advice from professional agronomists working there on a rotational basis.
This past summer, weather conditions created problems for the 100 families taking part in our program. (10 families supported by every teacher.) In the early growing period, which is May and the beginning of June, almost no rain fell. This was followed by forest fires. Precipitation began in July. Heavy rains started in mid-July causing flooding which badly affected the vegetables growing in the suburban districts. Also hail destroyed a number of cabbage fields. Lastly, on July 31 there was a sudden frost and snowfall in some regions.
We are now registering families who wish to develop home gardens in 1997, and in cooperation with the newly elected city council we hope to develop a comprehensive program to promote city farming in the coming years.
We would like to ask urban agriculture organizations to send us photos of hydroponic, roof, balcony and other appropriate technologies already in use in other countries for an Exhibition named "City Families Feeding Themselves". This Exhibition will be important for making the Government, the City Mayor, district governors, as well as UNDP, World Bank and other donor organizations in Mongolia, regard urban agriculture as a top priority in their effort to eradicate poverty and malnutrition.
Because residents are predominantly of nomadic background, there is a strong need to display agricultural tools and short-season seed varieties which can grow under Mongolian cold/dry weather conditions, etc. If different types of seeds become available, we will establish a kind of Demonstration Garden, like in Vancouver, of plants that can be grown under severe conditions.
Major co-operating organizations for our work were: the Agro-Biology Faculty of the National Agriculture University, the Plant Protection Board, the Seed Control Board, the Food and Agriculture Board of the city municipality, the "Mother Nature" Centre, ADRA and others.