The next soum we visited was Khujirt (pronounced as ‘Hujirt’). This small village is not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but is famous amongst Mongolians for its’ hot springs. Unfortunately the project team was not able to visit these, as we had to work very hard the whole day.
Only five herder groups in this area are involved in the project. Most of these groups got a water point last year and are working on growing crops and rearing livestock in a more efficient way. Furthermore, this city is known for it’s wooden products and wood carving. The wood is cut from the local forests. A forest cooperative is established to protect the local forests and collect firewood from it that consists only of shrubs and tree branches that fell of trees already, instead of cutting trees for firewood.
The government is stimulating the local people to grow vegetables and forages, but has limited sources, such as seeds and irrigated land. The herders expressed interest in trainings on processing raw products such as milk, hides, wool and constructing/using greenhouses. This means many opportunities to do basic, practical trainings with the knowledge from surrounding soums!
In the evening we arrived in Bat Ulzi, a village with 17.000 people and 84.000 livestock, a little more than 2 hours driving from Khujirt. The next morning we woke up to find that already 10 cm of fresh snow had fallen down and more was on its way…so we didn’t expect many herder groups. The surprise was big that over 50 people showed up for the training in the local theatre.
This touristic municipality (‘soum’), famous for its’ waterfall (however, only the waterfall is mentioned in tourist guides, which leaves the village itself unspoiled), has a very active governor and energetic herder groups. Many events are organized, of which one is how to ‘harvest’ and select the highest quality of cashmere from the local goats and and another how to process dairy into butter, cheeses and other dairy products and yearly a yak festival is organized to select the best ones and have entertainment for tourists. One herder group got training on making wooden products and started a small business. Now there are many people enlisted and waiting for a bed, cupboard, ger and other products as the demand is much higher than what can be produced. To find a bigger place to make a higher production possible is the next challenge this group faces. Some women got enthusiastic to earn their own income and want training to learn sewing. As they don’t have materials yet, they will hand in their business plan to the project and hope for some funds to buy materials and get some training. If funds were available through local banks with reasonable rates of interest, they would already have started!
Besides these small business, there are large mining companies working in this soum. One of them works together with the local government on a plan to start planting trees and clean the environment and has given the local herding families support after the cold winter of 2009/2010. Others don’t really bother about the local people, however, with more and more attention for social corporate responsibility this could be changing in the future and gives good options for new small businesses. In this soum completely other opportunities arise for business and alternative income generation!