Law and Disorder: Local Implementation of Mongolia's Land Law


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 8th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, Bloomington, Indiana (31 May to 4 June 2000). Proceedings are available on CD-ROM.


With the dismantling of herding collectives in Mongolia in 1992, formal regulatory institutions for allocating pasture vanished, and weakened customary institutions were unable effectively to fill the void. Increasing poverty and wealth differentiation in the herding sector, a wave of urban–rural migration, and the lack of formal or strong informal regulation led to a downward spiral of unsustainable grazing practices. In 1994, Mongolia's parliament passed the Land Law, which authorized land possession contracts (leases) over pastoral resources such as campsites and pastures. Implementation of leasing provisions began in 1998. This article examines the implications of the Law's implementation at the local level, based on interviews with herders and officials in all levels of government, and a resurvey of herding households. Amongst many findings, the research shows that poorer herders were largely overlooked in the allocation of campsite leases; that the poor had become more mobile and the wealthy more sedentary; that there had been a sharp decline in trespassing following lease implementation, but that many herders and officials expected pasture leasing to lead to increased conflict over pastures. The Land Law provides broad regulatory latitude and flexibility to local authorities, but the Law's lack of clarity and poor understanding of its provisions by herders and local officials limit its utility. The existing legal framework and local attitudes stand in clear opposition to the implied goal of land registration and titling — an all-embracing land market and the supremacy of private property rights.