Protecting Natural Resources and Generating Incomes: A Balancing Act

Nov 5, 2017

Ankbayar Buukav, Gulzat-1 leader. Photo courtesy of UNDP Mongolia

After a three-hour drive from the aimag center, we reached the 2nd bagh of Bukhmurun soum in Uvs aimag. Besides the Khotgor mine some 30 km’s away, few residential signs appear seen along the steppe. The bagh center itself consists of couple of small houses and several ger’s. As we rushed into one of the warm ger’s, a young lady with a warm smile welcomed us in. 28-year old Ankhbayar Buukav, is married to a childhood sweetheart and already a mother of two. “It usually is quiet around here”, she said sprightly.

“But now that winter is around the corner, most herders are moving away from each other.” Ankhbayar is no ordinary homemaker. She serves as the head of the local community group initiative Gulzat 1, one of 12 voluntary unions of herder households operating in Gulzat Local Protected Area (LPA) conserving wildlife, including world-famous wild sheep, argali. Their community group consists of 13 households, collectively getting involved in local level decision-making and wildlife protection.

“Community groups are becoming more popular. Households want to join firstly, for the love of restoring nature in their motherland; secondly, for the economic benefits we get; and thirdly, for the chance to socialize in this remoteness”, Ankhbayar explained. The Mongolian Law on Environmental Protection provides an opportunity for community groups to take part in nature conservation. In recent years, all groups were responsible for protecting argali in their LPAs. As a result, the once near-threatened argali species reached a headcount of 2,000, allowing trophy-hunting for a certain quota each year.

“Not that the trophy hunting is a sustainable income source,” says Barsuren Zodov, Executive director of Gulzat Initiative, an NGO that overlooks all community groups in Gulzat area.

“But it is the best possible income source we have for the time-being, until we find more sustainable sources from other activities.”

The law states that at least 50% of the profits gained from argali trophy hunting should be invested back into conservation. Taking advantage of the favorable provision, local community groups are gaining funds for small-scale projects that further boost their income.

“We have received funds for various small projects within our community groups, such as handmade crafts and vegetable planting,” said Ankhbayar.

“We were also able to renovate our bagh center building with funds from the budget. Community groups are also a great opportunity for herders to get together in different social activities. We were, for example, the winners of the last nature conservation competition among community groups”, she added joyfully.

Partnering with community groups in the Gulzat local protected area has proven a success for argali conservation. The unexpected gain was the change in attitudes of the herders as they join in communal conservation along with decision makers and project initiators.

While celebrating these achievements, further actions are needed to find more sustainable incomes for community groups, as well as enhanced accountability and transparency in allocating funds for nature conservation.

Gulzat LPA is covered by UNDP’s Managed Resource Protected Areas project (MRPA), a five-year multi-stakeholders project, implemented in Uvs, Khentii and Dornod provinces, with the aim of expanding Mongolia’s PA system through community conservation. While the project was implemented, Gulzat LPAs grew by 170,000 hectares, to reach 297,015 hectares.

UNDP Communications Team

Bulganchimeg Bayasgalant

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