The Altai Mountains, which straddle China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, are a critical area for global conservation. They are a key habitat for endangered species, such as the snow leopard and Argali sheep. The UNDP supported GEF financed project "Community-based Conservation of Biological Diversity in the Mountain Landscapes of Mongolia's Altai Sayan Eco-region" worked with local communities within the area to apply community-based management and conservation strategies that empower herder communities to resolve forest and grassland management problems through partnerships with governments and NGOs. In particular, the entire area north of the 50th degree latitude in Khovsgol (5.7 million hectares) has been declared a locally protected area. This project was supported by UNDP, the GEF, and the Government of The Netherlands.
Due to the arrival of the market economy in the 1990s in Mongolia, pressure on natural resources has grown in the Altai Sayan region. The country has 10,898,000 ha of forest ( 7 % of total land area ) of which 47% is primary forest, 7% is production forest, and 45% is under protection. Much of the forest areas are in the Altai Sayan Ecoregion. Wildlife numbers declined as a result of overhunting and overfishing, and livestock pasture lands deteriorated. At the start of the project, the number of Argali sheep was as low as 250 individuals. Overgrazing is one of the main causes of environmental degradation in the range, worsened further by the harsh effects of extreme weather events. To reduce threats to biodiversity from unsustainable use, the Altai Sayan Project has worked with communities to manage natural resources such as pastures, wild animals, and plants, while also improving livelihood by expanding opportunities for herders
Formation of community groups and training in resource management and alternative livelihoods
Under the project, herders formed community groups of 10 to 15 members. These groups were given training as well as financial support in the form of small loans and grants to support the groups' sustainable management of resources and diversify herders' livelihoods.
Strengthening coordination and support at the local level
The initiative instituted 20 environment units within the local government office to support the community groups. These units brought together local government staff such as land officers, agriculture officers, rangers, police, and others to jointly work on environmental issues on a regular basis, often sharing one office. Instituting these units to cooperate with local communities has helped to shift mindsets. Local authorities now see their role as supporting local communities in conservation efforts rather than protecting state resources from local people.
Amendment of the Law on Environmental Protection
As a result of the project's advocacy efforts, Mongolia's Environmental Protection Law was amended to include clear legal provision for community-based natural resource management. A total of 64 officially registered community groups, which include 912 herder families, were given rights to manage natural resources on land covering more than half a million hectares. To date, 62 herder groups have been officially formed and are legally entrusted with the care of 500,000 hectares of this unique natural environment.
Behavioural and Attitudinal Change
The combined result of trainings, establishment of information centres, successful linkages with museums and local stakeholders, and the institution of social mobilisers, signboards, and field-monitoring visits has contributed significantly to changing people's mind set and behaviour. In order to promote gender balance, both men and women we encouraged to be involved in all events. Moreover, special trainings such as wool and felt production and dairy product making were organized for women. 12 different trainings were conducted such as CBNRM, community internal rights, and pasture management.
Over 7,000 herders were given training in wildlife management as well as new trades, including weaving, felt making, dairy product processing, marketing, and tourism Diversification of livelihoods has reduced pressure on resources (the population of globally important target species measurably increased over the project's lifetime) and gives communities more options during extreme weather conditions.
Improved coordination and capacity within the nomadic communities
Once groups of nomadic herders began organizing and managing their own natural resources, they started to support each other in additional ways. Many communities even decided to decrease the number of livestock to reflect what the grasslands could support. They also established a hospitality ger for tourists who want to experience the nomadic life. Fifteen percent of tourism income is put into the community fund and the rest is divided among the household.