Labor force and weather condition to control harvest

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September is the most important month for collecting harvest and stocking up on key food staples such as wheat, vegetables and other produce for the harsh winter. Farmers in some provinces have already started harvesting while others are getting ready to begin in the coming days.

According to Minister of Agriculture and Light Industry Z.Mendsaikhan, nationwide harvesting will start on September 15. However, weather forecasts by the National Agency for Meteorology and Environmental Monitoring predict heavy rains in main agricultural areas over the next couple of days. This may adversely affect the harvest and cause delay.

This year, 416,800 hectares of wheat, 19,000 hectares of potatoes, 9,400 hectares of vegetables, 80,000 hectares of animal fodder, 86,000 hectares of oilseeds, and 4,700 hectares of fruits were cultivated across the country. Compared to the previous year, wheat cultivation is said to have expanded by 26,700 hectares. Due to natural climatic conditions, crop germination was delayed, growth was adversely affected, and harvesting is at risk of getting delayed, say experts. In relation to this, the minister of food, agriculture and light industry said the demand for manpower for this year’s harvest would be higher than in previous years.

Viewing that it is possible to avoid the potential negative consequences and complete the harvest within a short period of time with the help of additional workforce and equipment, the agriculture minister called on students and young people to take part in the harvest collection. More specifically, on August 11, Cabinet approved a resolution to involve students, youth, military and job seekers in the harvest work. Employment contracts are to be signed to provide paid jobs to the target group. The salary rate for helping harvesting has been set at around 50,000 MNT per day. This could be a great opportunity to earn money for young people who have been staying at home and having difficulty finding part-time jobs for almost two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – not to mention that they will be able to get fresh air, create unforgettable memories, and contribute to one of the most important works for ensuring economic stability and food security. But most importantly, crops need to be gathered before the cold weather hits the country and it starts to snow so as not to damage the harvest.

This year has been a special year for farmers. At the beginning of spring planting, the situation with the COVID-19 infection was severe. During this period of high public preparedness, national and regional lockdowns combined with other challenges caused difficulty starting spring planting. However, the ministry, together with the farmers, was able to fully arrange this year’s planting work on time, officials highlighted.

Last spring, local farmers planted on more than 510,000 hectares of land, which is an increase of about 10 percent compared to 2019. Experts said that this year’s weather has been favorable, with plentiful rainfall, which usually means better chances of getting good harvest. Mongolia is expected to meet its domestic demand for potatoes and wheat.

Despite the global economic downturn, disruptions in food supply, declining trade, and many other difficulties, Mongolians hasn’t had to deal with food shortage. Everyone would agree that this is all thanks to all of the people working hard in the agricultural and food sectors. This year, the government has invested a great deal in ensuring bountiful harvest and supporting farmers in meeting the domestic demand. We know that a number of consumer goods, such as eggs, have been cut off and that their demand and prices have risen. But prices of flour and vegetables have been relatively stable during the pandemic. In addition, the decision to provide 100 billion MNT in agricultural soft loans under the 10 trillion MNT stimulus program, approved by Government Resolution No. 42 of 2021, and the launch of the “Household Farming” movement within the framework of the National Vegetables Program supported farmers and domestic food production.

Minister of Agriculture and Light Industry Z.Mendsaikhan highlighted, “Last spring, the government provided a discount on loans to be used for agricultural purposes. As a result, the field for planting wheat increased by 26,700 hectares compared to last year, potatoes by 1,600 hectares, vegetables by 877 hectares and fodder crops by 51,200 hectares. The Law on Customs Tariffs and Duties and Law on VAT Exemptions, approved on April 23, was initiated by Cabinet and approved by Parliament. In connection with this, new tractors and equipment were imported at a discount of about 18 billion MNT. A total of 12,500 tons of wheat seeds were distributed to more than 390 enterprises through the Agricultural Support Fund for spring sowing.”

“One of the problems we now face is the problem of seed aging. This year, 30 percent of the seed supplies were successfully renewed. The results are visible. About 485 tons of fodder seeds, 43.3 tons of plant protection products and 890,200 liters of fuel were distributed earlier this year for spring sowing with a 50 percent advance loan. Within the framework of the vegetables program, a movement promoting families to farm was launched throughout the country. About 176.2 tons of 10 types of vegetable seeds were offered with total discount of 1.9 billion MNT through the state budget. This is believed to have contributed to boosting domestic supplies of vegetables,” the minister said.

Agriculture loans have been issued as part of the 10 trillion MNT stimulus program for health protection and economic recovery. A total of 326 billion MNT was disbursed to 526 enterprises. It can be viewed as an effective measure for preventing equipment and machinery shortage during spring planting. The loan has an annual interest rate of 3 percent.

As mentioned above, the government has spent a huge amount of the state budget on agriculture and harvesting. However, this autumn’s harvest could face some difficulties due to weather conditions. Experts also fear that the pandemic could lead to a shortage of manpower, especially since people would likely avoid going to crowded areas. Therefore, the government is advised to pay attention to the health and safety of farmers and workers gathering harvest this year. Although people have been administered two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the next version of the virus is spreading locally. For starters, provincial authorities need to effectively organize the infection of the booster jab. Failure to follow the guidelines, procedures, and infection control regimes issued by the State Emergency Commission during harvesting activities may result in collection delay or even loss of crops.

Another important factor to focus on is how to store crops after harvest collection. Farmers are at risk of not being able to find adequate storage for the increased crop yield and means to sell them to locals if provincial agriculture departments and authorities do not pay special attention to these matters. The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry reported that it has submitted a proposal to the Polish government to get a soft loan to resolve the warehouse issue. By next spring, the ministry plans to increase storage capacity by 8,000 tons in the main agricultural region. If measures to increase the supply of potatoes and vegetables, stabilize prices and support sales are not implemented in cooperation with local food and agricultural enterprises, farmers could struggle to find sufficient storage for their crops.

Locals personally experienced and suffered considerably due to the spike in commodity prices, higher unemployment rate and reduced incomes caused by the nationwide lockdown imposed last winter. No one knows how the pandemic will play out. But if we prepare our food supplies and reserves well, we could wait out until next summer and see how the situation unfolds. This year’s autumn harvest plays a huge role in this. Young people need to be involved in this work as much as possible and work for themselves as well as the country. Relevant organizations are highly recommended to monitor the harvest work and ensure COVID-19 prevention guidelines and procedures are adhered to. It is also important for Mongolia to prepare the warehouse for future harvest. All of these will allow Mongolia and its people to overcome the harsh winter and unprecedented pandemic.

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar