Mongolia: Co-ops create economic resiliency, community
Mongolia faces growing economic troubles from a continued slump in the minerals market and heightened global financial volatility. While the slowdown has hit everyone, in the Ger region of Mongolia, which is often referred to as the country’s bread basket, cooperatives have shown a greater resiliency than other non-co-op businesses. One possible explanation is that co-op members benefit from being part of a community.
“Becoming and being a member of a cooperative is a commitment to a group. You pay a share price, and you become a member owner,” said Urana Dashtseren, who works with cooperatives as part of Global Communities Enabling Market Integration through Rural Group
Empowerment (EMIRGE) project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “Ownership and investment are created, but because each member is equal, it also creates a sense of belonging to a community.”
In Mongolia, EMIRGE focuses on farmers who have had no prior experience working together. Through value chain analyses and production assessments, EMIRGE has helped them identify opportunities to raise productivity and income. In addition, it’s brought them together to form producers’ groups and cooperatives where they share knowledge, services and even labor to build animal shelters and other structures. They’ve improved their knowledge, skills and management practices through hands-on group learning, leading to greater production and increased income – and a greater sense of community.
Through their co-op, vegetable growers in the Zuunkharaa region assessed the needs of markets in Ulaanbaatar and, together, began growing and selling specialty vegetables. This has allowed them to pay off all their bank debt. To celebrate their hard work and achievements, they’ve organized sports and social events. Other growers in the region have sought out cooperative membership, not just for the technical training, but also because they see new possibilities being part of a co-op.
One member of the Zuunkharaa Bayalag dairy cooperative has seen another benefit. She taught the skills she learned in co-op training to her son, which piqued his interest in dairying as a profession, not just as a traditional herder making a subsistence living. As a result, he purchased six cows and started running his own cattle business – and stayed in the area, rather than leaving to find other opportunities.
“For highly rural areas, where there may be miles between households, cooperatives provide a way for individuals to be a part of a community, as well as improve their economic well-being,” Dashtseren said.
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