Mongolian Culture Shift
Mongolia is a country undergoing change. It currently has the fastest-growing economy in the world, and Ulaanbaatar, its largest city, is growing along with the economy.
New buildings are going up every day and the city is home to more than one million people. However, despite the economic upswing, poverty is still a very real part of Mongolia.
In 1990, Mongolia abandoned its 70-year-old Soviet backing and communist regime, triggering widespread poverty and unemployment.
Presently, one in three Mongolians are impoverished and about half the nation’s poor live in rural areas, where the majority of these people make a living as cattle, yak or sheep herders. These herders roam the countryside, following their animals and building, packing and rebuilding their homes, which are typically nothing more than tent-like structures called gers. The number of livestock owned by most families is also well below the subsistence level. For a family to survive long-term, it is estimated the family needs at least 20 head of cattle or 70 sheep. About 20 percent of these families own fewer than 10 animals. In recent years, the herder’s livelihood has been further threatened by climate change and overgrazing.
More than 30 percent of Mongolia’s grassland has been lost in the past 40 years alone. At the center of the herder’s nomadic lifestyle is another animal they revere: their horses. These beasts of burden serve as riding animals, supply food (mare’s milk is used to produce the national beverage airag), and even provide entertainment in the form of horse racing. Yet, drawn by the lure of prosperity and economic growth in Mongolia’s cities, many herders are giving up their nomadic lifestyle and trying their luck at an urban one.
Mongolia is known as the country of "Blue Sky." It can be divided into four natural zones: mountain-forest steppe, mountain steppe and, in the extreme south, semi-desert and desert. It is 1,564,116 square kilometers and is slightly smaller than Alaska. Mongolian herders live throughout the land with their families in tents called Gers. Deforestation, overgrazing, and agricultural production have lead to soil erosion and desertification.
A young boy runs down the street with only his shoes on in the Ger District on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. Poverty is a recent reality in Mongolia. Presently, one in three people in Mongolia are poor, and the number of poor people grows as the income gap widens. Poverty is becoming entrenched not only in urban centers but also in rural areas, where about half of the countrys poor people live. According to the joint estimation, poverty headcount index in Mongolia stands at 29.8 percent
Mongolian herder Batchimeg.
A Mongolian Border Forces soldier.
A group of Mongolian herder teens gather in a open field to socialize after all their work is done for the day.
A group of Mongolian teens walk the streets of Ulaanbaatar.
Herders live in a traditional Mongolian dwelling called a Ger. It is suited for the harsh terrain and lifestyle the herders live. The Ger is a round felt tent covered in durable, waterproof, white canvas and is designed to be able to pack up and move. Its round shape keeps the Ger resilient to Mongolia 's ferocious winds, while its felt is rapidly drying material for when it rains or snow melts.
Everybody tries to rush off the streets as the rain starts in Ulaanbaatar.
A Mongolian herder milks her cows in the late afternoon. The size of the livestock holdings of most families, particularly newcomers who have migrated from urban centers, is well below the subsistence level. For a sustainable livelihood over the long term, a family of herders needs at least 10 heads of cattle or yak or 70 sheep. Yet when livestock collectives were disbanded in the early 1990s, about 20 percent of families, many of them headed by women, received fewer than 10 animals.
At the back door of a local butcher shop, a Mongolian butcher pulls in shopping carts of meat after unloading them from his car in Ulaanbaatar.
Two young boys run around and play with toy guns in the Ger District in Ulaanbaatar. Ger districts usually occupy poor quality land on the outskirts of town.
A truck full of Mongolian Soldiers drive down the street in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
A group of herders get together after their afternoon milking for a game of volleyball.
A group of young men play a game of pool in the Ger District on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. Poverty is a recent reality in Mongolia. Presently, one in three people in Mongolia are poor, and the number of poor people grows as the income gap widens. Poverty is becoming entrenched not only in urban centers, but also in rural areas, where about half of the country's poor people live.
Herder Otgonjaral is making a phone call from a field behind her Ger.
Driving down the streets of Ulaanbaatar a Mongolian man makes a phone call.
A herder takes his livestock out to a field for grazing. More than 30 percent of Mongolia’s grassland has been lost in the past 40 years alone.
Steam pipes that heat the city run through the streets of Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia's winters are long and cold and run from November to late April with average temperatures at -13 degrees. The average summer temperature is 65.
A Mongolian herder carries a leg of sheep to the cooking fire after butchering it. The herders use almost 100 percent of the animal they slaughter and eat meat at just about every meal of the day. They sustain their lives directly from the products of domesticated animals such as cattle, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, and goats, and sometimes game.
Meat that was butchered and brought in from the herders in the countryside is sold in one of many markets in Ulaanbaatar.
Mongolian herder Soninsaikhan sits on his motorcycle that he uses to get around the harsh terrain of the countryside. Mongolian herders are nomadic people usually moving place to place two to four times a year, depending on livestock's pasture. However the herders are moving less these days, which is causing over grazing leading to desertification.
A Mongolian train attendant watches as the first train of the morning unloads its passengers at the Ulaanbaatar train station. Most of the early morning passengers are herders carrying milk containers and other goods from the countryside to sell on the streets in the city.
Milk is poured over the head of the winning horse as a sign of good luck after a race. Horses are greatly cherished in Mongolian culture, especially by the nomads because horses are very useful to people's daily lives and livelihood. Horse racing is the second most popular event in Mongolia, after traditional wrestling. There is a traditional saying in Mongolian: "A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without the wings."
A Mongolian herder buys her milk from a vendor on a street corner in Ulaanbaatar. The herders bring in their fresh milk from the countryside and break it up into smaller bottles or plastic bags to sell.
A flock of sheep graze in central Mongolia. Mongolia is the land of livestock with more than 30 million livestock, including 13.8 million sheep, 10.2 million goats, 3.1 million cattle, 2.6 million horses and 322,300 Bactrian camels. The livestock is permanently threatened by the fragile condition of pastureland, severe winters and endemic animal diseases. To cope in the short term, herders at the subsistence level may have to sell animals. With fewer animals they find it even harder to survive. Herders are among the poorest of the poor in Mongolia.
Construction workers work on an apartment building in Ulaanbaatar. New buildings are going up everywhere you look in the city as Mongolia has the fastest-growing economy in the world right now. Mongolia was traditionally based on herding and agriculture. Mongolia's extensive mineral deposits, however, have attracted foreign investors, and the country is undergoing an economic transformation through its mining boom.
A young herder boy parks his bike by a tent so he can watch the Mongolian veterinarian Border Forces inside perform a routine surgery on a sheep. The Border Forces work with the herders teaching and promoting veterinarian and Public Health best practices.
A group of young boys play a game of basketball in the Ger District on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.
A couple of Mongolian herders race their horses. Mongolians take great pride in their horses, particularly among the nomads because they are very useful to people's daily lives and livelihood. They serve as riding animals, both for the daily work and in horse racing. The mare's milk is processed into the national beverage airag, and some animals are slaughtered for meat.
A bus of Mongolian commuters is packed during rush hour in Ulaanbaatar. The city is home to more than one million people and still growing.
A typical traditional Mongolian herder dwelling in central Mongolia.
A typical traditional Mongolian city dwelling in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Teen Mongolian herder Otgonnar holds a goat. The number of livestock owned by most families is also well below the subsistence level. For a family to survive long-term, it is estimated the family needs at least 20 head of cattle or 70 sheep. About 20 percent of these families own fewer than 10 animals.
A Mongolian boy watches traffic pass by outside a car repair garage in Ulaanbaatar.