What Are The Major Natural Resources Of Mongolia?

Mongolians manually extract gold from a dried river bed. Editorial credit: J_K / Shutterstock.com
Mongolians manually extract gold from a dried river bed. Editorial credit: J_K / Shutterstock.com

Mongolia is a landlocked nation found in East Asia. It is sandwiched between Russia and China. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, the border between the two countries is only 23 miles apart. Spanning an area of 603,909 square miles, it ranks as the world’s eighteenth largest country. It has a population of 3 million people making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Mongolia is also the 2nd largest landlocked nation in the world after Kazakhstan. The country has limited arable land. The Gobi desert covers much of the southern part of the country while the northern region is primarily a mountainous terrain. Approximately 45% of the population resides in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar which is also the largest in the country. The city is one of the four coldest capital cities in the world with the others being Ottawa, Moscow, and Astana. Some of the natural resources in Mongolia include arable land, forests, water, and minerals among others.

Arable Land

Agriculture has been playing a small but critical role in the economy of Mongolia. By 1985 it accounted for 18.3% of the country’s income and employed approximately 3.8% of the labor force in the country. Agriculture remains an important industry in the economy because it supports most of the industries in the country such as timber, foodstuff, and animal product such as hides and skins particularly for domestic consumption and export market as well. By 1986 agriculture was supplying about 60% of the country's exports. Currently, agriculture accounts for more than 10% of the country's GDP and employs approximately one-third of the country's labor force. Some of the factors which have hindered the development of agriculture are the high altitude in the country, low precipitation, fluctuation of temperatures, and long winters. As a result of these factors, only 1% of the arable land in the country is under crops which cover an area of 1.3 million hectares. Some of the crops cultivated in Mongolia include wheat, corn, potatoes, and barley.


By 1980, the country had approximately 15 million hectares of forest cover which was equivalent to 9.6% of the country's land area. The majority of the forested area was about 73% Siberian larch, 11% cedar, and 6.5% pine. The stocks of timber at the time were estimated to be approximately 46 billion cubic feet. The forests in Mongolia were utilized to extract timber and were a hunting ground for the fur-bearing animals. According to the Mongolian government, the forest sector in 1984 contributed about one-sixth to the country's gross national product (GNP). Upton 1987, forest resources were managed by the Forestry and Hunting Economy, which was a department in the Ministry of Forestry and Woodworking. In December 1987, the department was integrated into the newly-created Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the woodworking section was integrated into the new Ministry of Light Industry. The government's move to create a new ministry of environmental protection to manage the forest resources indicates the government's concern over the indiscriminate destruction of forest and the degradation of the environment. Between 1980 and 1986, fire alone destroyed approximately 1 million hectares of forest, besides the 20,000 hectares of trees which were felled every year. The shrink in forest cover in Mongolia affected the water levels in several tributaries of rivers such as Orkhon and Selenge, and seriously affected soil conservation and created a severe water shortage in the city of Ulaanbaatar.


Mongolia has several rivers and lakes which provide water resources used in the country. The Orkhon River is the longest in the country stretching for 698 miles long. According to the government of Mongolia, as of 2010, there were 1,016 rivers with permanent water run-off, 112 rivers with temporary runoff water, 214 dried springs and rivers, 259 lakes and ponds, 1,450 streams and springs,and 45 cold and hot spas and springs, which were all found in the Orkhon River Basin. The water flowing in the Orkhon River, 25% are from the underground, 10% are from snow and ice, and 60% originates from rain particularly in autumn and summer. Other major rivers in the country include Kherlen River, Zavkhan River, Tuul River, and Selenge River among others.


Mining in Mongolia is one of the crucial sectors of the economy, and some of the important minerals in the country include gold, copper, and coal among others. Mongolia has 10% of all the coal reserves in the world which according to 2011 estimates were about 162 billion tons, and the country operates 17 coal mines. In 2010, Mongolia produced 25 million tons of coal and exported 73% of the total output, making the mineral the largest export item in the country. Initially, the largest exports were copper, and currently, the largest export destination of the country’s coal minerals is in China, which takes more than 83% of all coal exports from Mongolia. The largest coal mine in Mongolia is the Tavan Tolgoi which has the highest grade of coal, and it is anticipated to produce 6 billion tons of coal. There are several goldmines found approximately 60 miles north of the capital city, and they include Gatsuurt Gold Mine and Boroo Gold Mine. Khotgor Coal Mine is also one of the largest mining projects in Mongolia, and others include and Oyu Tolgoi copper mine found in the southern part of the country. Mongolia Energy Corporation is one of the energy companies operating in Mongolia and is part of a joint venture between Mongolia and Russia, which carry out the largest part of the mining in the country. The Mineral Resource Authority of Mongolia (MRAM) is a government agency responsible for managing mining development in the country.

Economy Of Mongolia

According to the World Bank, Mongolia is a low, middle-income country and 22.4% of the country's population live below the poverty level. In 2011, the country had GDP per capita of $3,100 which had been growing steadily from the 1990s. However, the proportion of people living below the poverty level has been growing as well, and in 1998 it was about 35.6% of the population, and between 2000 and 2003 it was 36.1%, while in 2006 it was 32.2%.


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