Craig Janes § Henry Luce Foundation Resident Scholar

“Creating Vulnerability: Environmental Change, Failed Development, and Livelihood Insecurity in Post-Socialist Mongolia”

Craig R. JanesCraig R. Janes2011–2012 Henry Luce Foundation Resident ScholarCraig R. Janes2011–2012 Henry Luce Foundation Resident Scholar

In 1996, Craig Janes’s dean at the University of Colorado asked him if he would like to go to Mongolia to determine whether the university should partner with that country in an educational exchange program. Janes’s response: “Well, who would turn down an offer like that?” His trip was the first step on a path that led him, fifteen years later, to SAR to finish his book on the devastating concurrence of the end of socialism and the effects of climate change on Mongolian herders—a perfect storm that is driving herders away from the land and into urban areas.

There have always been dzuds (snowstorms severe enough to cause livestock starvation) in Mongolia, but they have become more extreme and more frequent recently due to climate change. Before the end of socialism in 1990, state institutions managed common, pooled resources, which provided a buffer between climate events and the livelihood of herders. “A tremendous loss of livestock wouldn’t have been a problem because the animals really belonged to the collective and there would be restocking from other regions,” Janes notes. He says that Mongolia is a clear example of the “tragedy of the commons,” the situation in which shared resources are used for individual advancement, while many people are left behind economically.

The rural economy of Mongolia had been largely local and trade-based, but with the change to a market-based economy in the early 1990s and the increase in disastrous weather, herders are being pushed to adjust quickly to a need for more cash and access to markets than they’ve experienced before. For many, this pressure means moving to an urban area even though they may have little education and little hope for employment. “Essentially what’s happened is that with each of these natural disasters, the rural economy sloughs off more and more of its poor. They’re really marginalized,” says Janes. “They’re living on the fringes of urban societies in miserable conditions.”

“The project that I brought here to SAR to write up is intended not only to contribute to our understanding of Mongolia and its rural herders, but also to learn more about the impact that certain kinds of strategies of governance have on the lives of average people worldwide.”—Craig Janes

Janes believes that as the rural countryside empties out, the large herders who are able to stay, those with thousands of animals, will move into the spaces that have been vacated by poorer herders, and establish large ranching operations. Janes says, “Those [poorer people] who are left will be working for these big herders. That will be a very different kind of system, a system that will employ far fewer people. Even ten years ago, the rural economy was really a source for a lot of the sustainable employment in Mongolia. That’ll go away, and I don’t see much else to replace it at this point.”

As a professor and associate academic dean at Simon Fraser University, Janes describes his everyday academic life as “interruptions interrupted by other interruptions.” The demands of his career made it very difficult to find time to work on his book on the intersection of post-socialist development, environmental change, and livelihood insecurity in Mongolia. He says of his nine months at SAR, “To be here and to be able to think is the greatest luxury I’ve had. It’s a luxury just to be able to think in an uninterrupted way; to read; to write hundreds of pages. . . . It enabled me to move forward in a way that I would not have been able to do had I not had this space.” When asked if SAR helped him with writing his book, he said, “Frankly, without this time at SAR, I might never have finished it.” 

Find out more about Craig Janes by visiting the SAR website (opens in new browser window).

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