Mongolia is the 18th-largest country in the world. Nearly 90% can be used for agricultural or pastoral pursuits, 9.6% is forest and 0.9% is covered by water. Less than 1% has no effective use. Climate is the overriding element of Mongolian agriculture. The period of grazing, the growth and quality of cultivated and natural plans, the timing and methods of performing many animal and crop production tasks - all these depend directly on climate and weather conditions. Short summers and sharp falls in temperature and frosts during the warm period make agriculture very difficult. Climatic stress, particularly unseasonal frosts, can cause harvest losses of between 10 and 30%.
Arable land and permanent crops cover 1.3 million ha, while permanent pastures cover 117.1 million ha. The main crops grown in Mongolia are wheat, barley, pulses, potatoes and some fruits.
The Mongolian agriculture sector has four discrete subsectors: (i) extensive livestock, which is the traditional semi-nomadic pastoral system, where camels, horses, cattle, sheep and goats are grazed together; (ii) mechanized large-area crop production of cereals and fodder crops; (iii) intensive farming, producing potatoes and other vegetables, with both mechanized and simple production methods; and (iv) intensive livestock, with housed dairy cattle, pigs and poultry. The livestock sector dominates, contributing 84.9% of total agricultural production.
National agricultural policy
Since 1990, the country has adopted a free-market economy. The privatization of crop production has partly failed and is still incomplete. Under liberalization policies, the original, very large, production units were to be privatized and transformed into small ones, organized as companies of various types, the number of which increased very rapidly in the beginning, but due to the disintegration of the FSU, inadequate access to credit, inflation and mismanagement in the new free marketing conditions, many of them disappeared. By 1997, only 300 large wheat farms (of between 1 000 and 30 000 ha) remained operational.
Until 1990, the seed sector was centrally organized and subsidized, and was directly under the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Plant Sciences and Agricultural Research Institute (PSARI) of the Ministry of Agriculture carried out variety breeding, and pre-basic and basic seed production. Since 1996/97, the Research Institute and the variety testing network have operated under severe budgetary restrictions, and there was no production of early generations of wheat seed, nor importation of new variety seed from FSU. State farms have been privatized, but only one of them is involved in seed production.
Seed supply to farmers is mainly from the informal seed sector, from on-farm seed production and exchange. FAO assisted the country through implementation of a emergency wheat seed production and new variety testing project.
Crop Genetic Resources
Since the 1940s, Mongolian researchers are estimated to have utilized more than 150 crops in Mongolia, and, from these, 18 crops are used for various purposes, including a few minor crops. Just 5 crops are grown widely in Mongolia.
During the last 40 years, the development of communication systems has greatly boosted the phenomenon of cultural integration, including the imposition of the eating habits of the dominant culture. Most important crops were very rapidly replaced by the new varieties from the Soviet Union. Many local varieties of cereals, vegetables were ignored for many years, because of their low yields, but it has only recently been discovered that local varieties carried genes for resistance to drought and diseases, with high protein contents and early maturity. Now, more efforts are being given to the collection and preservation of plant genetic resources, including local varieties.
With the establishment of the PGR Section at PSARI in 1979, comprehensive conservation and exploration of PGR started on a regular basis. The current PGR section has responsibility for collection of germplasm, including landraces and introduced accessions, their wild relatives, and for their safe conservation, regeneration and primary evaluation. The PGR Section of PSARI has a total of 20 713 accessions, including 1 200 landraces. There are six affiliated research institutions and experimental stations with indirect connection with PSARI. In consultation with the National Board of Plant Genetic Resources, the PGR Section prepares a basic workplan for related research on PGR and carries out basic research. PSARI has facilities for conservation of the working collection, with a capacity of 25 000 accessions. So far, seed germplasm at the PSARI consists of 8 448 wheat samples; 4 423 of barley; 1 152 of oat; 2 020 of various vegetables; and also grain legumes, industrial crops and ornamental plants (trees, flowers, herbs, etc.).