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17. Mongolia

Country data

Total land area 1996 (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total land


Natural forests 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (million ha)/annual change (%)


Population 1997 (millions)/Annual rate of change 1995-2000 (%)


Rural population 1997 (%)


GNP per person 1995 (US$)


Source of data: FAO - State of the World’s Forest 1999

General information

Mongolia is a land locked and mountainous country with an average eleviation of 1,580 m above sea level. The highest point is Munh Hairhany Orgil at 4,653 m and the lowest is Hoh Nuuryn Depression at 520 m above sea level. Due to the distance from the sea, the climate is continental. The temperature varies not only between seasons, but also within a day. In winter, the temperature can drop to minus 50 0C. The river-system in Mongolia covers about 67,000 km. There are 4000 lakes and approximately 7,000 hot springs. The country has a large resource of underground water. In 1997, about 70% of the population was under 29 years of age and about 56.4% were living in cities.

The transformation of the country from a feudal agrarian society to a relatively modern and structurally diverse state was accomplished under a socialist regime and a system of centrally directed allocation of physical and financial resources in the last seven decades. In August 1990, the country held its first parliamentary election, during which opposition parties gained 40% of the seats in the parliament. A new Constitution was approved in 1992 and has turned Mongolia into a country of democracy with a market economy. The country is divided into 21 administrative units (aimag). Each aimag is divided into several sums (districts). A sum is comprised of several bags (the lowest rural administrative unit). The country held a new election in September 2000. A new political party gained power and a new administrative system is being formed at this moment. The change from central planning into a market economy system resulted in substantial changes in the country’s economy as presented, in brief, in Table 1.

Since 1990, the economic development has been shifting from a centrally planned to a market-oriented system. The system aims at expanding the role of the private sector, diversifying the economic base, promoting exports, and strengthening the institutions. During the initial phase of implementing the system, there was rapid devaluation and inflation, increasing unemployment, and the living standard of the people was sharply lowered. In addition, the domestic production also sharply decreased. However, the industrial sector is the largest contributor to the national economy, accounting for 32 % of the Gross Domestic Product in 1993. Since 1996, the system has had a positive impact on the socio-economic development of the country.

Forest resources

All forestlands in Mongolia belong to the state. The Ministry of Nature and Environment (MNE) is responsible for the management of the forest resources.

Table 1: Progress in the economic sector development









GDP growth rate (%)








Inflation (%)








Unemployment (thousand)








Imports (US$ million)








Exports (US$ million)








According to the Government’s statistics of 1997, the total forest area was 17.5 million ha, or 11.2% of the total land area. The area of exploitable forests was estimated to be 5 million ha, located mainly in the northern parts of the country, forming a transition zone between Siberian forests and the Central Asian steppe zones. Significant areas of arid forests and shrub lands for timber harvesting are found in the southern and south-western parts of the country. In the forest-steppe zone, the environmental protection functions are more important than the economic functions; exploitation is limited to meet the local needs for fuel wood.

The forests are very slow growing, estimated at about 1.5-2.0 m3/ha per year. The survival rate of plantations is very low, approximately between 50-60%. Almost all rivers, including the inflow to Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world, flow from forested watersheds of the northern and central parts of the country. In addition to timber production, the forests function as wind breaks against desertification and help stabilise soil productivity in the agricultural lands.

Forest and steppe fires have been the main natural disaster in Mongolia. Due to the warm weather and high wind velocity, the fires spread out very fast over vast areas. In spring 1996, about 2,364 thousand ha of forests were destroyed by fires.

In the past, timber production was around 2.0 million m3. But by 1991, it had dropped to 800 thousand m3/year. The Soviet Union was the main trading partner. Log exports were banned in 1995, and since then, the export has shifted to China and other Asian countries in the form of processed products.

“Gers” are traditional Mongolian wooden houses constructed of sawn-wood and wood-based panels. It is estimated that half of the Mongolian population live in Gers. Thus, the Gers industry has been an important sector. According to a recent assessment, eco-tourism also has a great potential for promotion in Mongolia.

The Ministry of Nature and Environment (MNE) is the responsible institution in managing the forest resources, while the Ministry of Agriculture and Industry is responsible for co-ordinating the forest industries. The privatisation of the forestry sector is still underway and will be in line with the Privatisation Programme of 1996-2000. Finding funds to upgrade the equipment is among the main issues in this Progamme.

The range of geographical zones, including highland, steppe, and desert, accounts for the diversity of Mongolia’s flora and flora. The endangered and threatened flora and fauna have been listed in the Mongolian Red Book. Some endangered wildlife are the red dog, wild horse (Takhi or the Przhevalski horse), Mongolian saiga, and wild camel. Some species listed as threatened include snow leopard, reindeer, and gazelle. The total number of animal species listed in the Red Book are divided into the following categories: 1) endangered species: 7 mammals, 6 birds, 2 amphibians, 4 reptiles, and 2 fishes; and 2) as threatened species: 16 mammals and 13 birds.

The Government has established 28 nature reserves, covering an area of approximately 6.8% of the total land area. In order to sustain the existing range of wildlife species and ecosystems, the MNE has set a target of 30% of the total land area to be under protected areas, including national parks.

About 50,000 ha of tree plantations have been developed during the past 20 years. Forest fires and insects cause severe loss to forests of about 200,000 ha and 80,000 ha annually respectively. Natural regeneration has been taken place in the logged over and burned over areas. The main causes of deforestation and forest degradation are fires, overgrazing, mining, improper forest harvesting, illegal collection of timber for construction and fuel, pest and diseases.

Policy, planning and regulations

In 1997, the Parliament passed the National Policy on Environmental Protection, in which higher priority on forestry is to be given to the following aspects: forest resource development, improvement of forest inventory methodology, institutional strengthening for forest protection from fires and diseases, high survival rate of seedlings, and improvement of wood harvesting and wood processing technologies.

During 1995-96, Parliament passed a package of laws on forestry, including Forest Law, Law on Forest Fire Protection, and Law on Forest Resource Fee. However, these laws will be reviewed accordingly in line with the new National Forest Policy.

The main salient features of the Forest Law are:

1. Emphasis has been given to protection of forest resources and the environment;

2. The clear-cutting system has been banned;

3. The logging quota has been decentralised to the provinces;

4. Logging companies have to plant 3-5 seedlings for each tree cut;

5. The royalties are calculated based on the market price.

The Forest Law adopted in 1995 stipulates that the State budget for protection and restoration should be at least 70% of fees collected during the same year. The “National Forestry Statement”, which was ratified in 1998, stated that 6,500 ha of forests land are planned to be reforested in 2000 and 40,000 ha for the period 2000-2005. The reforestation plan for aimag and capital, which will be implemented by citizens, people’s groups and village organisations, shall be approved and controlled by the local government. The constraints faced by the Government in reforestation activities include the following: low capacity of nurseries and seed orchards, inadequate funds and facilities for plantation activities.

The Mongolian Law on Forest Steppe Fire Protection was adopted by the Parliament in 1996. The Principles for Assessment of Forest Steppe Fires Risk and the Rules for Mobilisation of Resources during Forest Steppe Fires were adopted in 1997. It was reported that approximately 6.0 million ha of forests were damaged by fires during 1995-1999.

In 1999, an export tax on round wood and sawn wood equivalent to US 150 per m3 was adopted by the Parliament. This law was designed to ban the export of raw and semi-processed wood with the main objective to promote domestic processing and conserve the forests.

In regard to ownership, the Mongolian Law on Land and Forests clearly spelled out that forests are the property of the State. However, the Mongolian Government Resolution No. 125 of 22 June 1998 stated that economic entities or organisations could be given a licence or contract to manage certain forest areas, in certain period and conditions. The duration of the licence/contract can be for 15 to 60 years with an extension of a maximum of 40 years. It was reported that since 1998 the Government had issued contracts for 6 communities covering an area of 37,000 ha of 20-40 years duration and contracts to some private logging companies covering an area of 11,800 of 60 years duration.

Harvesting and processing

At the end of 1987, all issues of forest management, protection and rehabilitation were handed over to the Ministry of Nature and Environment. Issues of forest harvesting and wood processing were handed over to the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The Forest Management Centre of the Ministry of Nature and Environment conducts forest surveys and inventories to determine forest resources status in different forest zones, produce forest maps, and craft forest management plans.

Under the centrally planned system, most of the timber industries were state-owned or joint ventures with Russia, Rumania, and Poland. Currently, timber industries are utilising less than 30% of their production capacity. At the beginning of the economic reform, the forest industry was left aside. Attention was given to more promising industrial sectors. Later, the policy reform included the forestry industries, including the privatisation of the state-owned enterprises and many reforms in smaller production units. Some of these units and state-owned enterprises have been reorganised into several joint stock enterprises. According to the 1998 statistics, the number of wood working companies totalled 60 units, mostly sawmills and small scale joinery or furniture factories.

During the centrally planned economy system, the average timber production was 2 million m3 annually. It was 0.8 million m3 during the new system. The timber harvesting system followed the Russian methods and technology i.e. clear cutting and tree length logging. Under the economic reform, selective felling has been in used in larch and pine forests.

Nowadays, there are 22 forestry enterprises dealing with forest management, rehabilitation, maintenance and protection, nine of which are owned by the Government, and the rest have been privatised.

Action plan for the 21st century (MAP-21)

MAP-21 is the country’s national agenda on sustainable development for the 21st century. It covers activities at the national and provincial (Aimag) levels. It provides an overall framework for sustainable development activities based on the country’s natural resources and ecosystems. The MAP-21 document was approved by the Government in November 1995, and formulated with assistance from UNDP.

MAP 21 is structured into four main subjects, including sustainable social development, sustainable economic development, proper use of natural resources and protection of nature and the environment, and means for implementing Mongolia’s System of sustainable development. Action for protection and careful use of forest resources includes the following: educating people about the importance of protecting Mongolia’s forest reserves, strengthening management and organisation, dealing with the financial and economic factors that lead to irresponsible forest exploitation, developing better human resources in forest management, achieving greater scientific understanding and conducting forest related research, creating information and promotion systems, improving use of forest reserves and reforestation, establishing a programme for extensive afforestation of areas without forest reserves, assistance in evaluating forest raw materials and the proper use of reserves, creating conditions for the development of forest tourism, and strengthening the various systems of forest activities, planning, evaluation and control.

In addition, several actions have been identified for combating desertification and protecting biodiversity, biotechnology development, policies, and also laws and programmes related to the use and conservation of water resources.

Other Action Plans such as the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), and the National Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (NPACD) are complementary to and integral parts of MAP-21.

National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP)

Mongolia initiated a National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) in 1993. The NEAP covers actions to the year 2010. The Plan is composed of three parts as follows:

1. Principal Environmental Issues, which has four sub-parts: environmental protection, management of natural resources, conservation, and natural disaster mitigation;

2. Social and Economic Dimensions; and

3. Other Mechanisms and Responses.

Forestry related issues raised in the NEAP include:

1. Reversing land degradation is one of the nation’s highest priority environmental actions, including measures to control and reverse overgrazing near settled areas.

2. The National Plan of Action to Combat Desertification was drafted with support from UNEP.

3. The wildlife population is declining due to illegal hunting, wildlife trade, and destruction of habitats due to deforestation, overgrazing, and urbanisation.

4. Eco-tourism offers a potential contribution to the economy; however, the facilities, particularly hotels and roads, are not well developed

5. Institutions, including regulations, co-ordination, and human resources, are weak.

Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan (BAP)

Biodiversity conservation is one of the priority issues in Mongolia. The BAP exercise was initiated in 1993. The detailed planning exercise including the preparation of the action plan, was undertaken in August 1995. The objectives of the BAP are to protect biodiversity and to restore damaged areas. The specific objectives of the BAP are as follows:

1. Establish a complete protected area system representing all ecosystems and to protect endangered species. This may require joint actions with the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.

2. Establish effective population control measures to limit human impact on the nation’s biodiversity;

3. Implement an effective environmental impact assessment programme.

4. Establish a research programme to improve knowledge of biodiversity.

5. Establish a nation-wide information and monitoring system for biodiversity conservation.

6. Establish national education and training programmes for biodiversity conservation.

7. Establish a public information programme to improve people’s knowledge on biodiversity.

8. Control pollution of air, water, and soil.

9. Regulate hunting and fishing.

10. Prevent pasture deterioration from over grazing.

11. Establish effective land-use planning control.

12. Draft regulations to protect biodiversity from the negative impact of mining.

13. Support tourism while developing sensible regulations to protect biodiversity.

14. Ensure that agriculture and forestry are carried out in compatible ways with biodiversity conservation.

15. Identify and restore damaged lands.

16. Develop renewable, clean energy sources, and ensure environmentally safe transport of fossil fuels.

17. Improve ex-situ management for species conservation and genetic resources.

National Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (NPACD)

As stated in the Convention on Desertification, the Rio declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, June 1992, desertification is defined as: “ land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variation and human activities”. Under the above criteria, 90% of lands in Mongolia, which have been used for range lands for livestock i.e. sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and camels, are vulnerable to desertification.

It has been assessed that the major causes of desertification in Mongolia are:

1. The climatological factor. Scientists claim that drought is a cyclical phenomenon, but its duration may have become longer and more severe. Strong winds are also one of the major causes of desertification.

2. The anthropogenic factor. Several factors have been identified, including overgrazing and other human activities associated with livestock grazing; intentional burning; and rodent and insect attacks.

Initially, the NPACD was prepared in 1991 by Mongolian and Russian specialists with assistance from UNEP, ESCAP, and the Russian Centre for International Projects (CIP). In 1994, the draft was revised. A national workshop on desertification was organised in August 1995 to review the revised draft document. The final NPACD draft was approved by the Government in July 1996. The development objective of the NPACD is consistent with the development objectives of the MAP 21 document i.e. to ensure that a process of national development is established which fully incorporates the principles of environmental sustainability and meets the basic human needs. The immediate-term goal of the NPACD is to provide the country with the institutional capability to effectively address problems with the sustained use of natural resources caused by the natural and anthropogenic forces associated with desertification and land degradation.

At the National Workshop on Combating Desertification held in Mongolia on August 1995, the NPACD prioritised programmes were identified as follows:

1. Institutional support for awareness raising, co-ordination and monitoring of the NPACD;

2. Creation of an enabling environment for sustainable management of land resources;

3. Support to applied and adoptive research and its dissemination;

4. Assessment and monitoring of drought and desertification/land degradation;

5. Promotion of sustainable pastoral land use system;

6. Integrated management and rehabilitation of crop lands; and

7. Sustainable management of forest resources.

National forest programmes (NFP)

Discussions concerning the possibility of formulating a comprehensive strategic plan for forestry toward sustainable forest development began in 1994. However, due to unavoidable circumstances, mainly financial and expertise, the exercise could not be undertaken. In mid 1997, the Government submitted an official request to FAO for support to launch a national forest programme. An FAO mission to clarify the programme’s approach and assist the Government to formulate a project proposal for possible support from donors was fielded in May-June 1998. A draft project proposal to launch the NFP exercise was made available. The mission also provided assistance to finalise the draft National Forest Policy.

For the smooth NFP preparation, FAO assisted the Government in organising a training workshop to discuss NFP strategic planning concept and modalities, held in Ulanbaatar in June-July 2000. As the follow up to the workshop, UNDP agreed to provide funds, under the SPPD scheme, to support the Government to strengthen the institution, including possible collaboration with the neighbouring countries for transboundary forest conservation. UNDP also would be assisting the Government to draft a national code for forest harvesting practice, and develop community boreal forestry.


Research activities are implemented in research institutes such as Institute of Geocology, Institute of Biology and Institute of Light Industry and Technology of Mongolian Technical University in Charge of reforestation, forest protection from forest fire and insects, forest silviculture, forest management, forest inventory and improvement of wood industry technology and furniture technology development.

Support from partners

Nowadays, the bilateral donors, international agencies, and other institutions active in forestry development in Mongolia are: UNEP, UNDP, JICA, GTZ, DANIDA, DGIS-the Netherlands, IDRC, WWF, ADB, University of Susse of UK, and USAID.

Focal point
Dr. J. Tsogtbaatar
Director, Institute of Geoecology
Ministry of Nature and Environment
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Tel: 321862; 329205
Fax: 976-1321 862
976-1321 401


Any of us will put out more and better ideas
if our efforts are fully appreciated
(Alexander F. Osbom)

If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes;
but it will be an empty victory
because you will never get your opponent’s good will.
(Ben Franklin, quoted from How to Win Friend & Influence People - Dale Carnegie)

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