An image of the country's flag.

Mongolia‘s rapid transition to democracy and an increasingly free market economy have been accompanied by rapid growth of urban centers, ambiguous land rights, halting efforts at privatization of land, and confusion over governance of pastureland. Increasing inequality between rural and urban populations, growing gender gaps, and persistent poverty are all concerns.

Mongolia‘s extensive but ecologically fragile grasslands support half of the country‘s working population. Over a fifth (21%) of Mongolia‘s GDP is produced by herders, but most of the country‘s pastureland is overgrazed and overstocked.

In spite of its progressive legal framework for natural resource protection, Mongolia‘s institutional capacity for enforcement is weak. As a result, irrigation on arable land has decreased, water quality in rural areas is poor, and illegal logging is rampant. The mining sector is growing rapidly, with licenses for mining and mineral exploration covering 43% of Mongolia‘s territory. At the same time, the growth of mining is responsible for an increasing number of conflicts over land and water resources, water pollution, and land degradation.


The USAID Mission‘s strategic objectives in Mongolia include accelerating and broadening sustainable, sector-led economic growth and more effective and accountable governance. USAID has been engaged in projects that included use of property title as collateral (GOBI Regional Economic Growth Initiative, GER Initiative), and has supported biodiversity, livelihoods,and landscape conservation through a Global Conservation Partnership grant. The following are possible opportunities for USAID and other donors to expand and deepen their engagement in these areas:

  • Review and strengthening of legal framework pertaining to pastureland rights. While the enactment of the 2002 Land Law clarified some aspects of the legal framework governing land, it did not reach pastureland rights, which continue to be ambiguous and poorly implemented. A law governing pastureland issues is currently before the parliament for consideration, however. Donors could use their expertise to assist the Government of Mongolia (GOM) in reviewing all components of the legal framework on pastureland rights,, identifying gaps, and providing technical assistance in the drafting of legislation and regulation, as needed.
  • Strengthen local institutions. In the forestry and mining sectors, training programs for environmental inspectors are needed, and better access to resources for field staff would improve their ability to reduce illegal forest harvesting and environmentally unsustainable mining practices. Donors could assist the GOM by providing capacity-building to local government officials and helping develop public-awareness campaigns with strong legal literacy components to advise officials and the general population on issues of land and other natural-resource rights and the legal framework governing those rights. Particular emphasis could be placed on institutions responsible for regulating pasture use and possession rights.
  • Protect and improve the rights of women and ethnic minorities. Despite the legal requirement for joint titling of land, the vast majority of land in Mongolia is held by men. The Mongolian Women‘s NGOs Coalition and its constituent groups have worked to develop women‘s political base and enforce gender quotas in representative bodies. Donors could support these groups and help them to extend their influence to issues involving rights to land and other natural resources. Legal literacy programs and legal aid services could be used to reach women in remote and isolated areas, advise them of their rights to land and other natural resources and support their ability to assert and enforce their rights effectively. In addition, the Kazakh minority, largely residing in western Mongolia, is increasingly vulnerable to exclusion from political discourse due to pan-Mongolianism and Khalkha (ethnic Mongols) hegemony. Legal literacy and legal aid programs could be designed to reach these groups.
  • Strengthen dispute-resolution mechanisms and institutions. USAID has assisted the GOM in the area of general judicial reform and capacity-building. Those efforts could be expanded and extended to reach tribunals governing land and natural resource rights, including courts, governors, and khot ails (nomadic camps generally comprised of between two and seven multigenerational households). USAID and other donors could assist in the development of appropriate mechanisms and procedures for dispute resolution, particularly in contentious areas of competing rights to pastureland, water, and forest products.
  • Evaluate community-based pasture management projects and develop model programs. Many commentators note the potential of community-based pasture management programs, several of which have been piloted in Mongolia by a variety of donors over the last decade. These programs could be evaluated, and best practices and lessons learned collected as a first step toward developing a model program or programs based on community-level decision-making that could be rolled out and adapted in the various regions of the country.
  • Support efforts to increase access to safe drinking water. Forty percent of the population in Mongolia lacks access to safe drinking water. In rural areas, only 17% of the drinking water consumed meets health standards. Privatization efforts have resulted in insufficient service provision and payment systems skewed toward wealthier users. Donors could support projects aimed at improving water quality in rural areas (and augment their support for current projects underway in urban areas), and could work with the GOM to ensure that privatization measures result in adequate service provision, at affordable prices, to the poor.
  • Improve knowledge of forest resources and strengthen forest administrative capacity. Little reliable information is available on the present state of Mongolia‘s forests, although estimates indicate that the current harvest of forest resources is over double the sustainable amount. Donors could support efforts to assess and monitor the status of forest resources in Mongolia, which could be used to inform and augment efforts to bolster administrative capacity in the forestry sector.


Over the last two decades, Mongolia has undergone a rapid transition from a centrally planned,highly subsidized economy to ademocracy with an increasingly  free market. The attendant socialupheaval and rapid economic growth have resulted in burgeoning urban centers, ambiguous landrights, halting efforts at privatization of land, and confusion over governance of the country‘s critical pastureland. Inequality in asset holdings(particularly livestock) is increasing, and gender gaps inpolitical, economic, and socialspheres expanding. Thirty-six percent of the population lives below the national poverty line.

Three-fourths of Mongolia is covered by ecologically fragile grasslands that support more than40 million head of livestock andhalf the country‘s workingpopulation. Despite drought andharsh winters that make nomadiclivestock production a risky and challenging occupation, 21% of Mongolia‘s GDP is produced by herders. Seventy-five percent of pastureland is overgrazed and overstocked.

Inequalities between rural and urban populations are increasing. Rural residents have less access to education, health care, safe drinking water, information, basic services, and income-generating activities. Most rural residents do not have formal rights to residential, farming, or pasture land. Poverty is increasing in the rural areas; 46% percent of the rural population lives below the national poverty line. Most of Mongolia‘s agricultural land is held by large companies under lease agreements. Forests, pastures, and grazing lands are owned by the state and cannot be privately owned.

Urban and peri-urban land markets have been more active than rural markets. However, the sale and registration process suffers from confusion, inefficiency, and corruption. Owners of private land who try to register title are shuffled between administrative agencies where there is no clear delineation of responsibility. Land administration offices lack staff capacity. Residential land privatization has resulted in multiple allocations of some land, and related disputes over rights.

The 1992 Constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, and Mongolian legislation provides for women‘s equal rights in inheritance, land use, and ownership of livestock and other property. However, women‘s land tenure and property rights are compromised by the absence of clear legislation around property rights in the contexts of divorce and inheritance.

Mongolia has a progressive legal framework for natural resource protection, but institutional capacity for
enforcement is weak. Access to safe drinking water in both urban and rural areas remains a significant challenge, and illegal logging is rampant in the country‘s forests.

Mineral resources, relatively unexploited until recently, have begun to infuse Mongolia with funds for infrastructure-development and comprise an increasing percentage of Mongolia‘s GDP. Licenses for mining and mining exploration cover 43% of Mongolia‘s territory, and mining is responsible for an increasing number of conflicts over land and water resources, water pollution, and land degradation.

Published / Updated: November 2010