Poverty Reduction in Mongolia

Keith Griffin (editor)

Asia Pacific Press 2003
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005 http://dannyreviews.com/
Poverty Reduction in Mongolia contains analyses by members of a team of economists invited to Mongolia by the United Nations Development Programme in summer 2001. It is written from a development perspective, but remains narrowly focused on economics. With as much as half the population of the country living in poverty, however, the subject is central to understanding Mongolia.

Keith Griffin begins with a macroeconomic overview. The statistics can only hint at the trauma inflicted on Mongolia by the economic "shock therapy" that started in 1990 and was exacerbated by the dzuds (winter storms) that struck in 1999/2000 and 2000/2001. GDP dropped by over 20% in the first four years before returning almost to where it had been by 2000; per-capita income fared much worse. The decade also saw increases in insecurity and inequality and a decrease in human capital.

Mark D. Brenner considers different measures of poverty. Officially around 30% of the population were poor in 2000, but the figure rises to 50% using more standard metrics and as high as 70% with a basic capabilities analysis. He also looks at inequality, structural changes, and adaptive responses by the poor. He argues for more poverty assistance targeted at lower levels of government, at aimag, soum, and even bag levels.

A second chapter by Keith Griffin describes how shock therapy induced urban-to-rural migration and increased the relative importance of the livestock sector, though at the same time decreasing its productivity in a kind of "pastoral involution". The removal of the negdel cooperatives that had managed pastures, combined with a mandated "free-for-all" commons, has created a range of problems; Griffin suggests leasing fees and pasture rights as a solution.

Takayoshi Kusago surveys employment and productivity in different sectors, covering demographic and geographic variation and the informal sector. He recommends encouragement of small and medium sized industries in agriculture and manufacturing, improving credit for small businesses, public works schemes, decentralised incubation centres for micro-enterprises, and the rehabilitation of schools — backed by a social safety net and some kind of micro-insurance against accidents or illness.

On environmental issues, Amy Ickowitz looks at the distribution of overgrazing and expands on Griffin's analysis of problems with mandated "open access" to pasture. She suggests group land tenure rather than individual titles and fees for access to pasture, water and winter shelters, with the proceeds used to maintain and extend basic infrastructure. She also touches on deforestation, mining and urban pollution.

Two chapters by Terry McKinley address governance issues. The first describes the outcomes and lessons of the six year National Poverty Alleviation Programme started in 1994, which had some successes in building infrastructure in rural areas, but also had problems with positioning within the government. The second looks at the National Development Strategy and problems of coordination between aid donors and the government.

Poverty Reduction in Mongolia is a work of advocacy as well as analysis, which has constrained the authors. Most obviously, there's a reluctance to say anything too harsh about the Mongolian government, the primary target of the policy recommendations. For the general reader, a bigger drawback is the narrow focus on economics, with no attempt at conveying what it's like to be poor in Mongolia. This is a particular problem because of the paucity of information about the country.

May 2005

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%T Poverty Reduction in Mongolia
%E Griffin, Keith
%I Asia Pacific Press
%D 2003
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 0731536959
%P 161pp