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.