THE EXPANSION OF OUR TRAINING PROGRAMME FOR YOUNG MONGOLIAN HERDERS
Johnstons of Elgin’s Sustainable Pasture Management course, managed for us by the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA), will now reach many more students through web-based learning.
The SFA has run training programmes for young Mongolian herders since 2015, and in 2019 Johnstons of Elgin piloted the Kharaatsai course, which combines modern sustainability theories with traditional skills passed down through generations, embedded within their centuries-old nomadic culture.
Specially developed textbooks combine contemporary regenerative theories with traditional herding methods. The course supports the herders' view of themselves as custodians of their environment. A total of 435 secondary school students from seven soums (or districts) in the Khenti province have graduated to date.
Our course will now expand into web-based learning, making participation accessible for young people in rural and urban environments and in other countries. The online programme will include lessons and progress updates, using social media platforms for communication. The Kharaatsai community will address environmental issues by organising small projects, sharing knowledge online and challenging each other with short videos of meaningful acts.
The programme was named Kharaatsai, or Swallow, as Mongolian cultural views the bird as a protector of our planet. In Mongolian folklore, the legend of The Swallow sees a heroic songbird save the earth from destruction at the hands of humankind.
In the short story, the earth is suffering from the heat of too many suns, so the brave and talented ‘Thumb Archer’ vows to shoot them down. He successfully shoots the first six and, ignoring the benefits to the earth of the single remaining sun, attempts to shoot the seventh. He promises that if he fails, he will turn himself into a rodent and live underground for the rest of time.
A wise swallow tries to dissuade the archer, and when he refuses to listen, the bird throws herself into the path of the archer’s arrow, shielding the last sun. The arrow hits her tail, splitting it into a fork shape.
The furious archer chases the bird. This time, the archer’s proud horse promises to change form and live in the ground if he cannot catch the swallow. As the last sun escapes behind a mountain, so does the swallow, and true to their word, the archer and the horse turn themselves into small, underground animals.
Legend has it that today when a swallow swoops around horse riders at dusk, she is challenging humans to catch her.
The moral of the story centres on balance, showing how humankind has always challenged nature. The Thumb Archer (Erkhii mergen) represents industrial development, aiming to protect the earth but going too far and potentially further endangering the planet. The swallow risked her life to maintain ecological balance.
The Kharaatsai logo features the silhouette of a vertical-flying swallow to illustrate a commitment to sustainability. By her fast and sharp flight, the swallow is also seen as an image of energetic youth in Mongolian culture.