Mongolian herder boy A young boy on horseback minding his family's herd of goats in the grassland steppe of eastern Mongolia's Toson Hulstai Nature Reserve. © Nick Hall

Stories in Mongolia

Herder Communities and Conservation

The Nature Conservancy partners with herders for community-led grassland management.

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The boundless plains of Mongolia are open-access, allowing herders to travel and graze their animals freely. In recent decades, traditional herding techniques have changed with the privatization of livestock during the transition to a market economy, leading to overgrazing. For example, herders have exponentially increased herd sizes to increase income, and to meet global demand, have taken on more cashmere goats that are destructive to grasslands. Herders now need to learn new skills to generate income

To protect pasturelands from further degradation, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is working with herders to take advantage of an amended environmental law giving herder communities formal recognition of their communal pasturelands and resource management rights.

Communities can reduce grassland degradation by keeping other herders out, creating natural resource management plans focused on sustainable herd sizes, and working together on alternative businesses to earn more income.

Quote: Samya

With our tradition of animal husbandry and pastoral livestock herding, we have an abundant wealth of knowledge and practical experience in nature conservation.

Associate Professor of Biology, National University of Mongolia

In 2017, TNC began working in 28 locations to help herders form community-based organizations (CBOs) that increase their collective ability to make decisions about how their pasturelands will be managed and to explore new opportunities for economic development. For a CBO to be recognized by the local government, herders need to develop a natural resource management plan so TNC has been providing them with strategic guidance. With our support, over 230 CBOs covering almost 5.9 million ha have been established.

Herder communities have always been the most important players in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, both within and outside protected areas. Through CBOs, herders work together to use sustainable grazing practices that do not negatively impact biodiversity. By virtue of our work with CBOs, TNC is helping them raise their voices and contribute to decision-making processes for the natural resources they depend on by building their skills at negotiating an open market economy and adapting to climate change impacts, as well as by enhancing their knowledge of ecosystem functions.

Map of community-led conservation showing establishment of protected areas.
Community-Led Conservation map showing the establishment of Community-Based Organizations (CBO) and protected areas across Mongolia. © TNC

We will assist CBOs in applying research-based pastureland management solutions, such as an ecosystem health monitoring process within community-managed areas. This monitoring program will help herders collect scientific data showing how they have improved grassland health through their interventions. This will become the basis for the CBOs to periodically revise and improve their pastureland management plans.

TNC will also develop income diversification opportunities that can supplement income from sustainable grazing, giving herders greater financial security to alter their grazing practices and reduce herd sizes. Here are some examples of these initiatives: