Suvd Boldbaatar works with the Mongolian NGO, People Centered Conservation (PCC). She is a key field team member for the global WOLTS project, which is carried out in Mongolia by PCC with MokoroLtd, a UK-based not-forprofit organisation.
WOLTS Team Perspectives is a blog series in which team members share their views about the impacts of the WOLTS project’s action-research.
“It’s hard to find the right life partner in my soum (district). Most of the girls went to school, then to university in the city. Not many of them are good at herding.” Like most young women who grew up in the city, I usually think of herders as quiet men with closed faces that are wrinkled and burnt by the sun. Khuukhenduu Naranbold is quite the opposite. He is smooth-skinned with an open face and a big smile. Even though he is only 23 years old, he is self-confident and keen to talk.
Khuukhenduu’s comments about marriage and herding were recorded in 2016 at the beginning of a five-year action research project on women’s land tenure security, called WOLTS. The project has focused on pastoralist
communities affected by mining, and has involved repeated visits and evidence gathering in several communities in Mongolia and Tanzania. I have been a part of the WOLTS team since June 2016.
Khuukhenduu comes from Dalanjargalan in the Gobi Desert – an area of Mongolia where the traditional herding lifestyle is under threat, not only from mining but also because many young herder men are struggling to marry. This is because boys, especially in herding families, are expected to look after the family’s animals, while girls are more likely to finish school and go to university.
Once the girls leave to study in the city, few want to return to the harsh herding lifestyle. Although it is difficult to find a partner, Khuukhenduu is not unhappy. He is a keen horseman and very proud of his riding skills. He is a member of the Mongolian Federation of Horse Racing and Trainers, and he loves racing. Unlike most other herders, who have adopted Chinese motorcycles and modern clothes, he still herds his animals on horseback and often wears a beautiful red deel (traditional costume).
However the nomadic herding life is difficult, and, although he lives in his own ger (traditional felted tent), Khuukhenduu stays close to his parents so that taking care of animals can be shared. At the same time, he uses social media to keep in touch with his school friends – and with girls. This contrast between tradition and modern technology illustrates the tensions and rapid changes taking place in today’s herding lifestyle. Khuukhenduu has profound knowledge of nature and how to successfully make a living from the land. He also embraces the internet, and was an eager participant in our WOLTS training programme this year on gender, land rights and the law.