Urantsetseg Tsend is a busy woman. But as she rushes between milking her cows, checking her bee hives and tending her tree nursery, she takes time to explain her passion for farming and nature in this remote region of forests, grasslands and mountains in northern Mongolia.
“My biggest goal is to hand down our forest to future generations,” she says. “I believe that the protection of forests and nature is the responsibility of all people and communities.”
It’s a philosophy Urantsetseg shares with her fellow herders and farmers in Binder, a ‘soum’ (county) more than 400 km from the capital Ulaanbaatar. In addition to looking after her farm, her husband, her children and grandchildren, she somehow finds time to lead the local Delger-Onon forest user group (FUG). The FUG has a large nursery for coniferous and broad-leaved trees, and harvests nearly two tonnes of pine cones every year.
“I've been leader of the FUG for five years. We have 49 active members from 24 households, but it's not always easy organising the members and getting them to participate. As leader, I organise activities and encourage members to take part,” explains Urantsetseg. “During the spring and autumn droughts, community members conduct daily fire patrols and carry out forest-thinning activities over a 15 hectare area. We also keep an eye out for illegal logging. We’ve worked hard to achieve our goals.”
Since 2021, the FUG has been working with the Sustainable Resilient Ecosystem and Agriculture Management in Mongolia (STREAM) project, which supports local communities with sustainable landscape management and food security. Co-funded by the EU GCCA+ and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), STREAM aims to help farmers and herders thrive in the face of climate change.
The UN estimates that around 90% of Mongolian grassland is vulnerable to desertification, and that three-quarters of pasture land is already degraded. So far, Binder soum has escaped the worst of the impacts. “As a herder, I haven’t noticed any significant desertification,” says Urantsetseg. “Compared to previous years, the growth of hay, compost and fodder seems to be normal. But we have experienced unusually low rainfall in winter and heavy rain in spring for two years in a row.”
The three year, €4,550,000 STREAM programme is jointly implemented by the German development agency GIZ and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “We have a very good history of working together with the STREAM forestry expert,” she says. “We have gained a huge amount of knowledge from their training and technical meetings. Our FUG members are very happy to be able to work together as beneficiaries on the project, and we’re looking forward to expanding our knowledge and putting it into practice.”
Forest-friendly activities such as beekeeping are a priority. “Forestry and beekeeping are inextricably linked,” she explains. “We put the hives near flowering plants on the edge of the forest because bees play an important role in pollination to increase biodiversity. Of course, FUG members know the importance of not grazing livestock in areas where natural regeneration is taking place.”
There’s not much Urantsetseg doesn’t know about farming. She’s been working this land for 30 years, and before that she and her husband drove tractors and combine harvesters for a grain cooperative. In 2000, the couple started a bee keeping and forestry business in addition to livestock herding. Her energy and passion are all the more remarkable considering she has had to overcome serious health issues. “A few years ago I got cancer, but fortunately the treatment was successful, and with the support of my family and community I have recovered both physically and mentally.”
Mongolian herders are a tough breed. Average winter temperatures in Binder regularly plunge to -25°C, and climate change has led to unpredictable rainfall patterns, droughts and extreme weather. For a community so reliant on farming, it’s an uncertain outlook.
“Livestock farming is the main source of income for local people. All the members of our FUG are engaged in animal husbandry. We produce 20-30 different local dairy products such as yoghurt, curd butter, sour cream, various creams and dry curds which we sell to increase our household income.”
As Urantsetseg returns to her never-ending round of tasks, she reflects on what climate change might mean for the future. “I do believe that livestock farming, sustainable forestry and beekeeping will be passed down from our generation to next. I just hope we can avoid natural disasters.”
The Delger-Onon forest user group has been working with the Sustainable Resilient Ecosystem and Agriculture Management in Mongolia (STREAM) project, which supports local communities with sustainable landscape management and food security. STREAM received funding from the European Union Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. The Global Climate Change Alliance Plus is a European Union flagship initiative which is helping the world's most vulnerable countries to address climate change.