Opinion Author: Tsetsen Dashtseren Comments
ASIA: Mongolia

What are the effects of desertification on humans and livestock in Mongolia?

The prime effect of global warming in Mongolia is steady expanding desertification eroding lands on a mass scale.

According to UNEP, 5% of land in Mongolia is very severely degraded because of desertification, 18% is severely degraded, 26% moderately degraded, and 23% slightly degraded.

The ongoing adverse effects of desertification in Mongolia are getting more and more obvious as seen in sandstorms, especially in regions like North Eastern China, Korean Peninsula and even some parts of Japan. People living in these areas are prime targets who are affected each spring by the sandstorms which originate in Mongolia.  

Transition to the market economy has caused an upheaval for what used to be self-sustaining nomadic animal breeding husbandry. The free-market economy requires cost efficiency in any economic activities. With the collapse of state-supported veterinary services, traditional nomadic livestock breeding has become no longer competitive. Today, no economic activities are effective and sustainable for the majority of people in rural Mongolia.

This, in combination with desertification, has started to have a tremendous adverse effect on traditional livestock breeding which in turn has caused deterioration in the plight of rural residents, especially in rural settled areas like provincial towns and soums (the smallest administrative units in Mongolia), breeding poverty in rural settlements.

Inhabitants of soum centers are mostly people deprived of resources and typically characterized by low income and constituting the key marginalized part of the rural population. Studies on poverty confirm ‘poverty seems to be most deeply entrenched in rural district centers called soums, which are settlements made up of a few hundred families’.

A ‘need to find ways to make communities stronger – socially, politically and economically’ (Sivaraksa, 2009) has become an imperative for Mongolia.

Mongolia still remains one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. In addition due to desertification, rural-to-urban migration means that many areas are emptying which has become another factor contributing to society’s increase in poverty.

When whole families migrate to urban areas for low paying jobs, they tend to require government services for basic needs that they used to provide for themselves (Sivaraksa, 2009).    

Contemplation of these issues provokes questions, e.g. how to bounce back from these adversities, how to ensure the abovementioned marginalized people are factored into the development plans of the country, how to reduce the effect of desertification, etc. 

Early attempts to solve these issues were usually undertaken separately, i.e. fragmented and not using a holistic approach. For instance, to combat the desertification there have been efforts to plant trees, but no significant outcomes have been achieved.

If one suggests planting trees could have been a sound solution to all the enumerated problems, it may sound trivial and lacking innovation at first glance, but the trick is how it is organized.  

It appears that development of forestry assets through planting foliar trees in degradated lands needs to be undertaken with the active engagement of local communities who are eventually the key stakeholders in this equation, e.g. soum residents.

In other words, the tree planting need to be put into hands of members of local communities; forestry assets literally need to be privatized in favor of the local residents. This will enable them not only to take an active part ‘in making decisions about things that affect their lives and livelihoods’ (Sivaraksa, 2009), but more importantly they will be furnished with important resources capable of making them economically stronger.  

If forestry assets are developed with direct involvement of local communities on a large scale then it is believed that Mongolia could become a significant player in contributing to the reduction of global warming.   

This concept can be turned into reality; there are five salient benefits:

  1. Local communities are stronger and more resilient to global warming;
  2. Significant country contribution to carbon emission reductions;
  3. Contribution to combating desertification, land degradation and reduction of adverse effects of desertification;
  4. Lands are better protected from potential predatory use by irresponsible miners and etc;
  5. Contribution to poverty reduction.  


Sivaraksa, Sulak. 2009. The Wisdom of Sustainability - Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century. Souvenir Press: London.



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