Social insurance schemes come to the rescue of Mongolian herders in times of distress
“I’ve been herding for 15 years. However, these years were not recorded as employment and I hadn’t paid any social insurance towards a pension fund,” said sixty-years old Mr. Budarakh Avildolda from soum (provincial lower administrative unit), Tsengel soum, Bayan-Ulgii province. “Now I am not eligible to an old-age pension at my retirement.”
Herding is accounted as informal and self-employment, thus herders are expected to contribute voluntarily to social insurance schemes in Mongolia. However, the majority of Mongolian herders (almost 85 per cent), who make up the third of the entire population, missed out on the benefits of social insurance in the case of Mr. Buldarakh.
Most of such low rate is due to a lack of knowledge of herders about social insurance and its benefits.
UN’s joint programme on extending social protection to herders sees that enrolling herders in the social insurance scheme is a way to prevent herders from further vulnerabilities to poverty and climate-related shocks. Therefore, the programme sees the importance of informing the herders about the benefits of social and health insurance schemes.
Training social insurance officers and peer-to-peer learning
One of the conventional and effective ways to reach out to the herders, who live scattered in remote areas relies on the social insurance officers.
During his mission to introduce and advocate herders for voluntary social insurance in the summer of 2021, Mr. Altanbek, social insurance officer of Tsengel soum, Bayan-Ulgii province explained Mr. Buldarakh the opportunity that he could retroactively contribute to the social insurance, which was allowed by an amendment to social insurance law in 2017, effective until the end of 2021.
The benefits of social insurance are not limited to the old-age pension only. In Mongolia, the voluntary social insurance scheme benefits include invalidity pension, survivor’s benefit, a benefit for temporary loss of the work ability, maternity benefit, funeral grant, work ability restoration allowances, and rehabilitation payments.
Herders are more vulnerable to climate-driven shocks such as dzud (severe winter that causes the death of animals), floods, and dust storms. Such circumstances put them at risk of occupational injuries in the field.
Mr. Batsaikhan Dovoo, a herder from Ider soum, Zavkhan province received compensation for his injuries in his leg and shoulder when he fell off a camel while herding his flocks. This was possible thanks to his wife, Amarbayasgalan Niisuren, who learned more about the benefits of social insurance from the peer-to-peer learning offered through the UN’s joint programme. Although they had been enrolled in voluntary social insurance for 17 years, they didn’t know about other benefits like compensation for injuries which resulted in temporary loss of his work ability.
Infusing information and knowledge about the benefits of social and health insurance wasn’t enough to get more herders to get voluntarily covered. Some herders simply lack the cash to pay the insurance premium.
Exploring non-conventional ways to increase social insurance coverage among herders
The programme tested other innovative approaches to increase herders’ coverage, especially of the vulnerable herders, in the social and health insurance. Herders’ self-organisations like cooperatives and pasture-user groups were instrumental in this pilot action.
Herders with fewer animals and a lack of cash and income to cover their insurance premium benefited from the joint efforts by their cooperatives. Herders would pay non-cash payments such as livestock and raw materials as insurance premiums to the cooperatives.
Ms. Byambatseren Sengejav, a chairwoman of the local herders’ cooperative “Khatan Ider” in Ider soum, Zavkhan province was trained as a local advocate for introducing the benefits of social insurance to the cooperative members and herders in her soum.
“Because it was more one-on-one interactive discussions, herders were more engaged,” said Byambatseren, who enthusiastically advocated to increase coverage of social insurance, which would come to their “rescue” in times of unprecedented crisis.
Supporting herders’ entrepreneurship skills and skills to generate more income would be an effective way to support herders’ resilience and prosperity. As such, the UN’s joint programme successfully explored “Herders’ Programme” with extensive content to provide knowledge on livestock production including dairy, hide and skin, meat processing as well as life skills such as sexual and reproductive health rights and prevention from gender-based violence.
Strengthening national capacity in shock-responsive social protection
Two-years of joint efforts by four UN agencies in the period of 2020-2021, including ILO as a lead, and UNFPA, UNICEF and FAO, have collectively contributed to the increase the social and health insurance coverage by five per cent among herders at the national level according to the General Authority for Social Insurance. However, at the five target soums in Zavkhan province, the UN joint programme saw an increase of social and health coverage by 10 per cent among the herders.
This has demonstrated that such achievement can be done through a partnership – not only among the UN agencies, but also with national and local government, private sector, trade unions, and other stakeholders including herders themselves.
With exemplary results and evidence from pilot activities, proving that innovative and rigorous efforts could potentially increase national coverage of herders in the social protection scheme, the joint program further advocates for mainstreaming shock-responsiveness into the national social protection system.
UN Mongolia’s joint programme “Extending Social Protection to Herders with Enhanced Shock Responsiveness” is one of the first joint efforts by UN entities in the country collectively addressing pressing issues in Mongolia’s social protection system. It aimed to offer evidence-based solutions to the most strategic and transformative policy challenges in the national social protection system. This joint programme was funded by the Joint SDG Fund – UN’s inter-agency, pooled mechanism for integrated policy support and strategic financing.