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Our research

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  • AIMS

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.  

Beneficiaries of the research include: 

  • Japanese early-career researchers and postgraduate students, who will participate in our summer schools and academic training activities. 
  • Kyrgyz academics and students, who will be invited to participate in our training activities and summer schools 
  • 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 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 
  • 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. 

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. 

1st December 2021 – 1 April 2022

Project Launch and Set-up

Initial online meeting; workshop planning; early career researcher training sessions; Stakeholder mapping; literature scoping; ethics approval paperwork; Setting up consultancy agreements and communications processes, shared drive Set up mentorship programme; knowledge exchange and impact planning

1 April 2022 to 1 June 2022

Fieldwork Planning

Develop interview and focus group instruments; develop remote sensing strategy Develop data management and filing systems Plan summer field school training for early researchers Coordinate roles and responsibilities of team members; create project website

1 June 2022 to 1 October 2022

Fieldwork Phase 1

Desk research including statistical data, policy reports and media posts Conduct fieldwork in two sites in Mongolia and two sites in Kyrgyzstan Implement summer field school training; remote sensing of field sites Transcribe and translate interviews to English

1 October 2022 to 1 December 2022

Data Analysis Phase 1

Fieldwork debrief; review of 1st year’s work Data processing; Begin qualitative and remote sensing data analysis Oxford-based early career development workshop for Japanese researchers; Plan journal special issue

1 December 2022 to 1 May 2023

Data Analysis Phase 2

Continue data analysis; prepare publications and edited book outline Stakeholder workshop with initial findings; Prepare for Fieldwork Phase 2 Japanese young researcher training in Oxford; mentoring continues

1 May 2023 to 1 September 2023

Fieldwork Phase 2

Follow-up interviews in 2 field-sites, remote sensing and mapping Stakeholder workshops; Summer field school; training for senior academics in Japan Conference presentations (i.e. IUAES, RGS, regional conferences)

1 September 2023 to 1 December 2023

Data Analysis Phase 3

Fieldwork debrief; review of 2nd year’s work; Data processing 2nd 4-day early career writing workshop, begin co-editing book Create dissemination and legacy plan

1 December 2023 to 1 April 2024

Write-up and Impact

Writing workshop for early career researchers First draft, project book; special journal issue publication Organise final conferences with early career researchers, in Oxford and Japan Engagement activities with stakeholders, government, NGOs, academics

1 April 2024 to 1 November 2024

Disseminations + Closure

Disseminate work in Central Asia; Final conferences and workshops Book publications; Project review; plan future collaborations (i.e. grants)