From 'Common Property' to Open Access: Changing Pastoral Land Tenure in Post-Socialist Mongolia

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"In my contribution I want to outline the changes in pasture allocation systems in the course of de-collectivisation based on empirical fieldwork in a district in western Mongolia. The area is characterised by its arid climate, a mixed-ethnic population consisting of Buddhist Mongols and Muslim Kazaks, and by repeated waves of migration most important the move of a large part of the Kazaks to Kazakstan in the early 1990s. The economy is based on pastoralism with livestock being privatised very rapidly between 1991 and 1993. Livestock numbers decreased in the early nineties due to the emigration to Kazakstan but almost recovered in the following years because herders now try to build up their herds. Pastoralism in western Mongolia is still based on free-range grazing throughout the year. Land in Mongolia is still property of the state. In socialist times the territory of one district was allotted to the corresponding collective. Now that these have been dissolved territorial boundaries have been weakening resulting in an influx of strangers in most cases impoverished city-dwellers. Also within the district established patterns of seasonal pasture allocation are frequently jeopardised. Main reasons are that herders try to diminish distance as well as frequency of migration in order to save transport costs, and the need for a general reorganisation of migratory cycles because of the return to mixed-species herds as a consequence of privatisation. This is especially a problem since disagreement frequently runs along ethnic lines. "The problem with land allocation in this context is that the omnipresent formal institution of the collective made local arrangements unnecessary in socialist times and these had no time to regain general acceptance again. The low degree of legitimacy of authorities is another problem for the enforcement of rules. The scenario could be interpreted as a transition from a common property regime, i.e. collectively owned and managed resources, to one of open access where no one can be denied access. From a property rights perspective this could be explained by a change in the cost-benefit relation of land value vs. territorial behaviour because of the decay of formal institutions and rising costs for monitoring and sanctioning misbehaviour. This is, at the same time, a collective action problem since generally agreed-upon allocation rules would ultimately lead to a more sustainable usage of pastures. This, however, is hampered by the low degree of mutual trust and the low time-horizons in post-socialist society especially among the former city-dwellers. But also the option of an emigration to Kazakstan may reduce the expected benefits of behaving in accordance with informal rules. These temptations for pasture misuse on both sides seems to make the existing common property regime too costly to be maintained any longer to the disadvantage of all."



IASC, common pool resources, privatization, livestock, land tenure and use, pastoralism, collective action, institutional change, open access, decollectivization