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By Linda Gardelle, sociologist, of whom the works concern more specifically some questions about nomadic pastoralism in Mongolia and in the Sahara desert.

Mongolia, a country full of nomadic breeders

The particularity of Mongolia is to be a country marked by a pastoralist nomadic heritage inseparable of its history, of its economy and of its culture. She has been the cradle of the famous “steppes empires” that have succeeded in this area since the 3rd century before our era. The most famous and the biggest of these empires is still the one formed by Gengis-khan and his descendants who, in the 13th century, dominated a great part of the continent. This era is still, for Mongolian people, a main period because it marked the birth of Mongolian nation and the most prestigious time of its flowering.

In latter-day Mongolia, nomadic breeders’ families represent more than 30% of Mongolian families, i.e. about 190 000 homes, and the breeding is still a major economical sector in Mongolia with an estimated participation of 30% of the Mongolian population and of more than 80% of all the agricultural productions. Breeding can be considered as a strategic domain for the development of Mongolia. Besides, it is written in the Mongolian Constitution that “the cattle is a richness of the nation and must be protected by the government”.

Moving more or less frequently

Breeders’ families move about four times per year, with their herd of sheep, goats, cows, yaks, camels and horses. Although: the intensity and the duration of these migrations are increasing in the most arid areas, as in the South-Gobi desert, where the pastures are scattered and fragile.

The nomadism allows Mongolian breeders to assure a meticulous exploitation of natural, unfavourable environments where the resources are weak and where the climate is arid and capricious. This kind of preference and this production mode allow them to efficiently face the most common risks by a permanent mobility, marked by the incessant research of water points and of new pastures. This mobility allowed Mongolian to set, over the centuries, a perfect command of their territory. However, it incontestably is a lifestyle directly exposed to the climatic risks: more particularly the dryness, which can take down a whole cattle and family when they last a long time.

Breeders are moving freely, by cooperation between the breeders, but the implantation of the camps, notably summer and spring camps, are reported to the authorities. In Mongolia, the lands belong to everyone. A law about lands’ privatisation was voted in 2002 but concerns only mining and urban zones. The only evocation of pastures’ privatisation, the biggest part of Mongolian steppes, caused an important outcry. Some of them recommend it in a whisper, seeing a bridle for all the problems of over-pasturage noticed in the suburban regions. However, this is not possible at this moment. The steppe currently still belongs to all the Mongolian population.