We are examining and comparing the specific responses and recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic in rural Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. Research focuses on agro-pastoralist households (people living by a mixture of agriculture and livestock herding) and rural governance institutions to understand and respond to the challenges faced by rural pastoralist society.
Rural households in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan already face the interlinking risks of climate change, insecure tenure and environmental pollution from mineral extraction, and livestock diseases. These environmental conditions, unstable political conditions, corruption (Rossabi 2021), poor infrastructure, growing rural-urban divides, and the rising geopolitical influence of China creates unique challenges for traditional socio-economic systems.
Covid-19 has exacerbated many of these issues, creating new vulnerabilities and possibilities. Travel restrictions and border closures in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan continue to disrupt markets and supply chains for agricultural products. Raw cashmere prices dropped 60% compared to the prior year (Sustainable Fibre Alliance 2020), whilst the closure of urban centres reduced rural markets and household income generation. Wider impacts on household investments may have further effects on access to education (see Ahearn and Bumochir 2016), healthcare, winter fodder supplies and livestock medicines which increases vulnerability to severe winter conditions.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has also encouraged and prompted innovations. Traditional mobile pastoralists livelihoods produce milk, meat and dairy products which are key to rural consumption and national food security (FAO 2021). Agro-pastoralists’ adaptive skills softened the impact of Covid-19 in 2020 (Sternberg et al. 2021). These deserve further investigation to support longer-term systems for sustainable recovery.
As two post-socialist countries with rural economies largely split between mineral extraction and household-organized livestock-based mobile livelihoods, Mongolian and Kyrgyzstan present an opportunity for comparative research. Our initial project scoping reveals pandemic implications for rural households, local institutions, and community development, mirroring global Covid-19 challenges across Asia and Africa. Through experience, engagement and expertise, our team will identify opportunities to contribute to positive post-Covid19 and rural recovery in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, outcomes relevant to global pastoral societies.
to understand the multi-scalar socio-economic and geographic dimensions of Covid-19 response in rural areas. This will be done by examining decision-making processes and responses at three scales: the rural household level, local institutions, and the national government;
to advance civic engagement, democratic participation, social well-being and an inclusive recovery through evidence-based, collaborative and multi-stakeholder approaches;
to empower researchers at every stage of their career through a comprehensive capacity building and skills development programme.
A novel feature of this project is its unusual and unique collaboration between Japanese and UK academics in undertaking research jointly in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. The project brings together eight Japanese universities with the University of Oxford, building on over 77 years of combined experience working in Mongolia and Central Asia. We engage directly with collaborators in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, including the National University of Mongolia and the University of Central Asia.
Joint research will identify post-pandemic opportunities to address key issues, transition and improve rural livelihoods, governance and support services. By advancing a collaborative research agenda, our project will empower researchers at every stage of their career through a comprehensive capacity building and skills development programme. Our project will be significant in its ability to nurture the next generation of scholars undertaking work in this region.
Two rural field sites have been selected in Mongolia (Bulgan and Dundgovi provinces) and Kyrgyzstan (Naryn and Jalalabad provinces) where the research team has previous experience and community contacts. Small project teams will undertake fieldwork in collaboration will local experts.
Beneficiaries of the research include:
Japanese early-career researchers and postgraduate students, who will participate in our summer schools and academic training activities.
Kyrgyz and Mongolian academics and students, who will be invited to participate in our training activities and summer schools
The Oxford Central Asia Network of scholars and students will benefit from collaboration and knowledge exchange opportunities
Mongolian and Kyrgyz herders, who are the primary focus of our research
International development agencies such as JICA, UNDP, and Aga Khan Development Network who will benefit from our policy briefs and research findings for their programming.
Mongolian and Kyrgyz government ministries, provincial government and local government officials who will be invited to contribute to setting our research agenda in order to enable successful impact from the research