Mongolia Protects Its Boreal Forests by Improving Local Livelihoods

Boreal forests cover 14.2 million hectares or 9% of Mongolia. Photo credit: ADB.

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Involving forest users in managing and conserving resources while strengthening value chains help curb illegal logging and forest fires.

Overview

Mongolia may be known for its deserts and steppes, but boreal forests of larch, pine, and birch trees cover 14.2 million hectares, or 9% of this vast country. Compared with tropical forests, boreal forests store twice as much carbon per hectare, much of it below ground. These are the earth’s largest terrestrial carbon sink, a hugely important factor in the fight against climate change.

But the boreal forests are under threat. More than 140,000 hectares are lost every year to fires, insect pests, grazing, and illegal logging. Hazards to forests also include extreme weather conditions—dry summers followed by cold winters, which have intensified due to climate change.

To restore and conserve forest resources, Mongolia embarked on a project in the Daurian forest steppe ecoregion to build the resilience of forest ecosystems. Supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and expertise from Finnish partners, the project strengthened government’s capacity for sustainable forest management and involved private sector enterprises and local communities in preserving boreal forests through sustainable livelihoods.

Challenges

Mongolia is one of the coldest countries in the world, yet it is already seeing the impacts of a warming planet with average temperature increases of more than 2 degrees Celsius and significant changes to once reliable precipitation patterns. Average annual precipitation in the north is around 220 millimeters, less than a quarter of the global average. Drier forests contain large amounts of deadfalls and debris, further increasing the risk of fire.

Unsustainable and illegal logging poses another threat. The government was able to significantly reduce illegal logging by tasking voluntary forest user groups or FUGs to help ensure the proper use and rehabilitation of local forests. However, this has worked only in areas where these groups are active. Among the challenges faced by this scheme is that FUGs use their own resources to protect the forests but do not gain valuable benefits from their activities. FUGs are only allowed by law to take fallen dead wood and nontimber products from the forest.

Context

The Government of Mongolia has enacted a variety of laws and policies to curb the loss of forest cover. These include amendments to the Law on Environmental Protection to allow for the creation of FUGs and the Forest Law in order to shift forest management from the state to private enterprises and communities.

More than a thousand FUGs are supposed to take care of some 3 million hectares of forest area. However, only about a third of them are considered active.

Solution

Forest user groups receive training in sustainable forest management. Photo credit: ADB.

In 2015, the Mongolian government and ADB signed a letter of agreement for a technical assistance project to improve the livelihoods of local communities through sustainable forest management. The project, totaling $2.1 million, was financed by grants from the Government of Japan through the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, now Japan Fund for Prosperous and Resilient Asia and the Pacific. The executing agency was the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, represented by its Forest Policy and Coordination Department. The project was implemented by the Finland office of NIRAS, a multi-disciplinary consulting company with its global headquarters in Denmark, and their local partner MonConsult LLC.

The project focused on building resilience of boreal forest ecosystems in five aimags (provinces) containing most of Mongolia’s forest cover. It supported policies around forest protection while encouraging private enterprises and FUGs to get involved in forest management. It enhanced the capacity of governmental line agencies in forest management and strengthened forest product value chains.

NIRAS tapped Finland’s expertise in applying global best practices in boreal forestry, such as creating cooperatives to sustainably manage forests in freezing temperatures. As one of the most forested countries in Europe with trees covering two thirds of its area, Finland has a long history of working for a balance between intensive industrial use of forests and sustainability.

The project engaged in a variety of activities, including business management training; the integration of global information systems to capture related data in the planning of sustainable forest management; and forest and non-forest product development.

The Bayan Tunkhel Cooperative was created as a pathway for FUGs to derive economic benefit from harvesting forest products, utilizing wood processing technology and providing biomass for heating. The project chose the Tunkhel Village district as it would provide the best testing grounds due to its proximity to potential target markets and infrastructure, such as railway lines, the number of sawmills and other wood processing facilities available in the area, the number of active FUGs (seven), the area’s dependency on forestry, and the availability of dead wood resources. The project was implemented in this pilot area and then scaled up to the rest of the aimags.

Results

The project has helped raise forestry high up on the agenda in Mongolia. There is increased awareness of the role of forests in protecting the environment and in the fight against climate change.

Mongolia’s boreal forests act as ecological security buffers, being a source of food, fuelwood, and livelihood for local communities. By developing methods and tools, along with capacity building and knowledge sharing, the project has enabled FUGs to prepare sustainable forest management plans that restore and conserve forest resources, as well as develop economic opportunities.

Lessons

The project found that improving the livelihoods of local communities through sustainable forest management would require policy changes. These would promote community-based forest management planning, the removal of ineffective timber quotas to allow FUGs to harvest more valuable products under controlled circumstances, and a greater sense of ownership that allows FUG members to derive economic value from their activities.

The ultimate goal of ADB’s support is to help achieve a climate-resilient, sustainable forestry sector which benefits local livelihoods. Achieving this requires a long-term commitment. In 2021, the Government and ADB initiated a follow-up project, the Forest Sector Development Program (2021–2023). The project is being funded by another grant ($0.8 million) from the Government of Japan through the Japan Fund for Prosperous and Resilient Asia and the Pacific.  

Suzanne Robertson
Principal Operations Coordination Specialist (Environment and Agriculture), Climate Change, Resilience, and Environment Cluster, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Department, Asian Development Bank

Suzanne has a background in agriculture and natural resources management and has extensive experience working as a technical specialist on sustainable development projects in Asia and the Pacific. She joined ADB in 2014 and started working for the East Asia Department, designing and implementing loan and technical assistance projects in the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia.

Melanie Ullrich
External Relations Officer, European Representative Office, Asian Development Bank

Melanie works with ADB’s European member countries to ensure their engagement with ADB. She is a graduate of Hamburg University in Germany and studied Chinese Culture and Language at Zhejiang University, Hangzhou in the People’s Republic of China. Before joining ADB, she was head of marketing at the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and business and policy program manager at Asia House in London.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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