Mongolia's livestock breeds, a precious part of global biological diversity


Amidst the vast expanse of Mongolia's high altitude Great Plateau, a remarkable story unfolds - one of endurance, adaptation, and unwavering resilience. The nation's unique livestock breeds are a symbol of pride and a vital backbone of the country's economy. Today, on this International Day for Biological Diversity, we celebrate not only Mongolia’s livestock diversity, but also the herders that have developed and maintained them for thousands of years. 

A wealth of genetic diversity

The Mongolian nation boasts an impressive array of livestock breeds that have been developed over the past millennia. From sheep, cattle, and horses to goats, dromedaries, Bactrian camels, and yaks, unique breeds have flourished within Mongolia's borders. The importance of conserving the genetic resources of these remarkable breeds is underscored in a FAO technical cooperation project “Support the assessment of animal genetic resources.”  This assessment revealed that native Mongolian breeds make up an astonishing majority, with over 97 percent of cattle, 100 percent of camels, and 96 percent of goats originating from these breeds. But it doesn't end there—Mongolia also provides a sanctuary for captivating wild relatives such as the Przewalski horse, khulan (Mongolian Wild Ass), khavtgai (wild camel), Agrali mountain sheep, Ibex, and reindeer. A notable example of Mongolia's domestic breeds is the "Bayad" sheep. Created through centuries of selective breeding in Mongolia's coldest regions, the Bayad sheep are valued for their meat, wool, and milk, and are prized for their resilience in the extreme climate.

A pillar of the economy

The significance of the livestock sector in Mongolia lies in the fact that for centuries it has been the foundation of its national economy. The agricultural sector alone accounted for an average of 13 percent of Mongolia's GDP, with the livestock sector driving over 80 percent of the gross agriculture outputs. The livestock sector provides approximately a quarter of the country's jobs, ensuring the conservation of traditional livelihoods.

Thriving in the face of adversity

Mongolia's livestock breeds have defied the odds, adapting to the harsh and diverse ecosystems of the Great Plateau. Grazing freely throughout the year, these remarkable animals have evolved to endure the bone-chilling temperatures that plummet to -50°C in some areas, as well as survive the short hot summer season. The future of these vital genetic resources is precarious, however. According to the 2018 National Rangeland Health Assessment report, a staggering 57 percent of the country's pastureland has experienced various levels of degradation. Moreover, climate change has affected Mongolia particularly harshly and has been characterized by a dramatic increase in the frequency, intensity, and unpredictability of extreme weather events. Droughts, snowstorms, dust storms, heavy rainfall, and flooding have all tripled in the last decade, wreaking havoc on Mongolia's animal husbandry practices. Among these natural phenomena, a period of extreme winter weather stands out and leaves a devastating mark on the land. It is the dreaded dzud – a brutal blast of wintry weather that unleashes an icy grip on the Mongolian countryside. This extreme weather condition causes a devastating loss of livestock due to cold stress exacerbated by a lack of forage. Its impact on communities and the economy, both locally and nationally, is profound. Despite the mounting challenges, Mongolian domestic livestock breeds persist. Their extraordinary hardiness and resilience enable them to not only survive but also reproduce and thrive in the face of the insurmountable challenges presented by nature and climate change.

The story of Mongolia's livestock breeds is a call to action.  The diversity of genetic resources for food and agriculture, which provides a vast reservoir of options for adapting agricultural production to the impacts of climate change, thus needs to be conserved and used for the well-being of present and future generations. To help achieve these objectives, FAO Members have agreed to implement the Global Plan of Action on Animal Genetic Resources, the only internationally agreed policy for livestock genetic diversity.  They also meet regularly as the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetics for Food and Agriculture to review progress made.

As Mongolia navigates the challenges of a changing world, the story of its resilient livestock breeds stands as a testament to the nation's indomitable spirit. These animals, shaped by centuries of adaptation, continue to thrive amidst the unforgiving landscapes of the Great Plateau. The story is a reminder of the intricate interdependence between humans and the environment, urging us to embrace sustainable practices and conserve the remarkable biodiversity that sustains us all. 

More on this topic:

1.     Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS)

2.     Why is animal genetics important?

3.     FAO in Mongolia


1.     Pastoralists-driven Data Management System in Mongolia, 2018-2019

2.     The economics of pastoralism in Argentina, Chad and Mongolia

3.     Pastoralism in Mongolia, a needed balance between production and sustainable use of natural resources 


(314) Diversity of Animal Genetic Resources - YouTube