A person standing among a herd of sheep.
Here Purvee, 38, is a veterinarian preparing to vaccinate a herd of sheep.

Mercy Corps worked in Mongolia from 1999 to 2021, helping to reduce vulnerability and increase opportunities for rural communities. After 22 years and hundreds of thousands of lives impacted, we decided it was time to close down our operations and let our amazing local partners take the lead.

The context

With a population of more than 3 million people across 603,900 square miles, and less than five people per square mile, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world. A third of the total population live in rural areas.

Winter and extreme weather are a fact of life in Mongolia—short hot summers and long cold winters make life challenging for the 181,000 rural households who raise livestock across Mongolia’s vast tracts of rangeland. Dzuds—harsh winter storms that contribute to drought conditions and poor forage availability in summer—are becoming more intense and frequent with climate change. When dzuds destroy pastureland critical to feeding large herds, rural livelihoods are devastated. Since 2000, dzuds have killed over 21 million livestock.

Mongolia has been an independent state since the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and had close ties with the Soviet Union up until the end of the Cold War. In 1990, Mongolia began the transition from a socialist state to a democracy, participating in the global free market economy. Although this transition came peacefully, many social and economic challenges arose as the Mongolian people and government adjusted to new governance and economic systems.

In this new era of growth and competition, there was a sudden need to adapt to a new economic system, while still preserving traditional ways of life. Tens of thousands of Mongolians started their own businesses and animal herders, which represent the main source of income for rural communities, needed to gain knowledge of the free market to adapt their practices to harness emerging opportunities.

Significant progress has been made since 1990, and we believe that local stakeholders are well placed to lead development efforts moving forward. Rural markets are thriving, Mongolian civil society has strong relationships with the government and communities, and the government will continue to support economic growth. Because of this, we feel like it is the right time to celebrate the progress and sunset our operations.

Our impact

Mercy Corps Mongolia was established in 1999 to address the need for innovation in economic development. Over the next 22 years, we partnered with local and national government agencies, local organisations, businesses, and communities to help ensure that rural livelihoods are resilient to economic and environmental challenges while retaining distinct and vital cultural traditions. We brought bold, forward thinking to the efforts already underway as the country transitioned to a thriving free-market economy and democracy.

Our work centred around the following three sectors:

The Legacy of Mercy Corps Mongolia: 22 Years of Progress
A large group of people posing for a group photo.

Economic development

Mercy Corps helped develop, diversify, and strengthen businesses critical to Mongolia’s rural economy, particularly in the livestock sector. We supported entrepreneurs and business owners to develop business skills, access key information, and obtain financial services critical for growth and diversification. We were an early adopter of a market systems approach, focusing on increasing market access and negotiating power for rural livestock producers through the formation of herder groups and cooperatives.

A small group of farmers.
Enkh Erdene is part of the Eco Han Buyan farmers cooperative and received support from Mercy Corps to increase productivity of his cattle and farming operation.
Two farmers process milk from their cattle.

Disaster risk reduction

Mercy Corps worked with the Government of Mongolia to strengthen the capacity of rural communities and businesses to prepare, respond to, and mitigate impacts of natural disasters. The livestock sector was particularly vulnerable to extreme weather that could wipe out economic gains overnight if not properly managed. That’s why we helped herders, farmers, veterinarians, and emergency personnel to develop and adopt cutting edge disaster plans, early warning systems, SMS technology for on-demand weather information, and science-based health and rangeland management practices.

Woman in mongolia with a drone
Two farmers use a sms forecasting system device.
Altan, 36, and her husband Batmunkh, 37, used to lose half their herd to the dzud, but now an SMS forecasting system from Mercy Corps helps her stay up-to-date on Mongolia’s deadly weather.

Good governance

Mercy Corps partnered with the government, local organisations, and the private sector to develop and implement practices and policies that are transparent, responsive, and inclusive of rural communities. We worked to strengthen civil society organisations so they can effectively bridge the gap between citizens and the government, increase community engagement, and elevate the specific needs of rural communities into the higher level development plans for economic development and disaster preparedness.

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