Book Review"Mongolia Today: Science, Culture, Environment and Development"

In International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume 4 Number 1 (2003)
Peer-reviewed Article

Since Mongolia was opened up to the world in 1990, a number of books on contemporary Mongolia have been published for Western readers, focusing mainly on its history, politics, economy, and social issues. There is, however, still only a limited range of scientific books relating to traditional agriculture and environmental protection in Mongolia, and in this regard this book might draw the interest of readers.

Mongolia is an East Asian country with a relatively small population 1 and rich natural resources that covers a vast area of land 2. While industrialization, which only began in the country during the 1930s, has had certain benefits, it has also given rise to negative environmental impacts, especially during the last few decades. Because a substantial portion of the nation’s land area remains in its natural state, Mongolia still has the opportunity to manage its future economic development in such a way as to minimize the negative impacts of industrialization on local communities and natural ecosystems. In this regard, it is necessary to support the marketing of the nation’s unique products, encourage clean energy and clean processing technologies, and increase efficient business practices, as well as developing the intellectual potential of the country.

In order to understand the potential for achieving sustainable development in Mongolia, the editors provide a wide-ranging collection of articles, written by leading Mongolian scientists from a variety of fields, which focus on such topics as the impact of industrialization, the nation’s environmental policies, the status of biotechnological research and development, and the flora and fauna of the country. This volume contributes to strengthening environmental awareness among Mongolians, while also informing people throughout the world about Mongolia’s exceptional biological and cultural resources. This book is also intended to promote and increase opportunities for collaboration between Mongolian and Western scientists in contributing to the conservation and protection of our common global ecosystem.

The book consists of three thematic sections, containing 11 chapters. The first section, titled “Modernization,” has three chapters. The first, which describes the impact of industrialization in Mongolia, including both its benefits and costs, was written by the president of the Mongolian Technical University and his colleagues. Although industrialization in the country has taken place only in fairly limited areas 3, it has had severe ecological and environmental effects; this can be seen in the fact that residents of Ulaanbaatar have twice as many respiratory problems as would normally be expected in a population of that size 4.

In the second chapter, “Environmental Policy in Mongolia,” Dr. Z. Batjargal, former Minister for Nature and the Environment, introduces environmental policy issues in Mongolia, taking into account newly recognized natural resource limits and priorities for the future. The role of the Ministry of Nature and the Environment and challenges associated with promoting effective environmental protection and sustainable economic development in Mongolia are also discussed. An appendix containing information related to the environmental laws of Mongolia and other supplementary materials can be found at the end of this chapter 5.

The third chapter, “Review of Developments in Biotechnology in Mongolia,” written by Dr. Dashnyam, a Mongolian scientist, in collaboration with Dr. R. A. Zilinskas, a Western expert in international bioscience, presents their opinions regarding the outlook for modern biotechnology research in Mongolia and opportunities for collaboration between foreign and Mongolian researchers. As the Mongolian government has assigned an important role to biotechnology and supported human resource development in this field, certain achievements have been made. The authors describe the current activities and outputs of the Division of Biotechnology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Research Institute of Animal Husbandry, the Mongolian Veterinary Institute, the SHIM Research & Production Company, the Monenzime Research and Production Joint Stock Co., and the Mongolian Biotechnology Association. These institutions have carried out a variety of research activities, such as cloning virus genes and producing bioactive molecules from animal organs and biological fertilizers.

The second section of this book is titled “Traditional Culture and Indigenous Technologies.” Chapter 4, “Mongolian Dairy Products,” describes the historical background of traditional milk processing technologies, Mongolian milk animals, and Mongolian dairy production techniques. Dr. Indra, the author of the chapter, outlines the valuable nutritional and biological properties of yak’s milk, mare’s milk, and airag 6, which are unique to Mongolia. Chapter 5, “Traditional Animal Husbandry Techniques Practiced by Mongolian Nomadic People,” describes Mongolian domestic livestock and animal husbandry techniques that for centuries have successfully sustained rural, semi-nomadic, and nomadic lifestyles. According to the author, nomadic livestock husbandry is more appropriate than crop agriculture due to the harsh continental climate of Central Asia, which limits water availability. Approximately 80 percent of Mongolia’s entire land area is natural pasture, whereas only about 1 percent is suitable for cultivation. Biological features, the productivity of Mongolian livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, yaks, camels, and horses) and traditional methods for keeping and breeding them are described in detail in the chapter. At the end, the author makes recommendations for the sustainable management of animal husbandry. Chapter 6, Medicinal Plants of Mongolia and Their Use in Traditional Medicine, considers Mongolian indigenous medicine, taking an in-depth look into the properties of plants used by traditional healers. Descriptions of Mongolian medicinal plants can be found at the end of this chapter.

The final section, “Biodiversity,” comprised of five chapters, is devoted to an examination of Mongolia’s rich flora and fauna and aspects of their diversity. The first four chapters of this section, written by Mongolian experts, focus on ichthyology, ornithology, microbiology, and the flora and fauna of the Gobi region, while considering environmental treaties and policy issues, as well as proposing opportunities for collaboration with foreign researchers and entrepreneurs. Annexes to these chapters include “Common Mongolian Game Birds,” “Rare and Endangered Birds in Mongolia,” “Biological Features of Valuable Fish Species,” and “Microorganisms Found in Mongolia.” The last chapter, “Conservation Case Study of the Gobi Bear,” written by two foreign conservation biologists, Dr. P. J. Balint and Dr. J. A. Steinberg, gives a detailed assessment of the status of the Gobi bear, a unique and endangered type of brown bear surviving in Mongolia’s southern desert, and suggests opportunities for collaboration between overseas biologists and conservationists and their Mongolian counterparts.

Well-grounded citations from articles and Web sites, not to mention comprehensive appendices, colorful photos, maps, and other information related to Mongolia make this book useful and interesting for a wide range of readers.

This book could be a valuable reference resource for policymakers, researchers, students, and scholars of environmental policy and sustainable development in Mongolia and the Asia-Pacific region. In conclusion, I would like to quote from the message from the President of Mongolia printed in the foreword of this book: “The Government of Mongolia fully supports implementation at the national level of the vision for sustainable development expressed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.”

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Nachin Dashnyam