Mongolia in for double whammy: drought now, 'dzud' next

Tue Sep 1, 2015 5:09pm EDT
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By Terrence Edwards

ULAANBAATAR (Reuters) - Balchig Baljinnyam, a small-time farmer in central Mongolia, is busy building a shelter for his dairy cows ahead of what is expected to be the most brutal winter in years. A summer drought has already cut traditional sources of fodder for his herd.

It will be a double whammy for Mongolia this year. Its mining sector, which accounts for 17 percent of the economy, is in shambles due to weak commodity prices. Now the farm sector is in trouble. The drought has wiped out up to 80 percent of its wheat crop and up next could be the worst winter in six years.

Mass animal deaths due to a freezing winter, locally known as a "dzud", in a predominantly pastoral country would only make a bad situation worse. In 2009-2010, Mongolia lost 20 percent of its livestock to the dzud, the World Bank estimates.

"It's not a drought, it's a catastrophe," said Davjigbold Ariunbold, the owner of a farm around 110 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, near Baljinnyam's setup.

At least 40 percent of the wheat crop on the farm has died, but the extent of the damage will be clear during the September harvest, added Ariunbold, pointing to his fields where the crop was limping at about ankle high. His next worry is the dzud.

Usually, a dzud is likely to occur when a harsh winter follows a very dry summer.

Erdene-Ochir Badarch, an operations officer at the World Bank in Ulaanbaatar, said there was a high chance of a dzud after the severe drought this year. "In the north and east there is a high possibility," he said.

The Mongolian government has promised to ban wheat and meat exports from September before winter sets in to ensure domestic supplies. It has also said it will import wheat from Russia for flour and animal fodder.   Continued...

A harvester works in a crops field affected by drought, near Ulaanbaatar, in Talbulag, Jargalant district, Tov province, Mongolia, August 26, 2015.  REUTERS/B. Rentsendorj