Debt and the wildlife trade in the Mongolian borderlands
An online interactive lecture by Hedwig Waters, Research Fellow at IIAS.
This lecture will take place from 11:00 - 12:00 a.m. Amsterdam Time (Central European Summer Time, CEST).
Hedwig Waters discusses how residents of remote Magtaal—Mongolia’s easternmost township surrounded on all sides by the Chinese border—negotiate chronic cash scarcity through monetary debt paid back through the proceeds of the cross-border wildlife trade (in e.g. Chinese medicinal plants, fish).
Although it has been almost thirty years since the collapse of socialism, the residents of rural Mongolia continue to experience ongoing formal unemployment, lack of infrastructure and an unstable currency. Yet, they live in a market economy, requiring them to use cash money to satisfy most needs.
In this lecture, Hedwig discusses how residents of rural Magtaal—a remote province located on the Chinese border—negotiate the temporal gap between the current need for money and future potential income by collateralizing social/natural resources to access monetary loans. Here, rural residents in need of cash only have two options—1) get a bank or kinship loan; or 2) participate in the illegal, cross-border wildlife trade in e.g. environmentally-protected fish or Chinese medicinal plants. Often, they do both—they get a bank loan in a time of need in the now, use social networks to pay off interest payments in the interim, and pay off the principle when the wildlife trade starts in the autumn every year. Scaled out, this creates a system where bank debt not only encourages the expansion of the wildlife trade but its proceeds are also being paid directly into the formal Mongolian banking system.
Hedwig Waters is a Research Fellow in the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden University, Netherlands, and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, University College London (UCL), UK. She received her PhD from UCL in 2019 as part of an ERC-funded project focusing on the sociocultural aftereffects of the 2011-2014 Mongolian mining boom. Post-PhD, Hedwig taught on the Anthropology of Capitalisms course at UCL and has had visiting fellowships and positions at both UCL and Cambridge University. She is using her time at IIAS to finish her book manuscript, tentatively titled Economic Transformation in the Mongolian Borderlands to be published with UCL Press in the Economic Exposures in Asia book series. She has published and has forthcoming articles on the nexus of economic and political anthropology, incl. moralities in economic transformation, financialization, commodification of the natural environment, etc.
There will be time for questions after the talk.