Learning about Development Policy in Uvs Aimag

I just visited Uvs province in Western Mongolia for the first time and had the chance to meet with stakeholder representatives from government, civil society, small businesses, and the corporate sector to learn about their development policy.

One of the aspects that makes Uvs interesting is that the mining industry is merely beginning to be considered for diversification beyond agriculture, especially the famous, nutritious and delicious seabuckthorn. Generally, Uvs seems to be doing fairly well economically on the basis of its agricultural sector.

Seabuckthorn field from above near Ulaangom, #Mongolia A photo posted by Julian Dierkes (@jbdierkes) on

Hopes for mining development are focused on coal, gold, iron ore, oil, rare earths, and salt. A significant number of exploration licenses have been granted recently (75% of applications are being granted, 190 exploration licenses, 48 “A” licenses issued, ) and exploration at a number of projects appear to be underway. The development of a mining industry is seen as a main pillar for overall economic development.

It is clear that at some point as these projects rev up and might lead to production of some kind, demands for regulatory and inspection frameworks on the aimag government will increase significantly.

Fear the Ninja

The element that makes mining regulation a central concern for the administration as well as civil society is the arrival of artisanal and small-scale miners in Uvs, primarily prospecting for gold on the border with Khovd aimag. It’s not that the presence of ninja miners is entirely new, but the suspicion in the population towards ninja mining has grown significantly to be quite hostile now. And that even though many of the ninja miners appear to be local and not migrant miners from other regions as had been the case in several previous round of gold rushes throughout Mongolia.

Even though a number of the ninja projects have been formalized under the recent legislation that allows cooperatives of ninja miners to formalize mining rights, the administration is quite wary of ninja mining as it is an ongoing process rather than a finite business. With formal and mechanized mining, there comes a point in the project when it is finished. In contrast, at least in the view of stakeholders in Uvs ninja miners will abandon a location, but others will then move in to continue mining there leading to continuous and messy (in the absence of any rehabilitation) sites.

Related to this challenge is the observation that others across Mongolia have also made, that projects that are purportedly rehabilitating mining sites are really actually engaged in additional mining.

The fear of the impact of ninja mining leads to some of the sense of urgency in addressing mining regulation in Uvs where a formal mining industry of a significant scale is merely on the horizon

Desperate for information and education

The clearest message from all stakeholder representatives regarding needs in addressing mining was that information and education of all involved is most urgently needed. All discussions agreed that citizens at the local level have almost no understanding of the mining industry and of the impacts as well as the benefits that development might bring.

Basic introductions to industrial mining as well as a deeper understanding of the life cycle of a mining project (including the ebb and flow of investments, construction activities, employment, profits, (planning for closure) is needed at all levels in Uvs, from herders in the countryside to civil society centred on the aimag capital, Ulaangom, to local state authorities and inspectors, and the aimag administration. By all accounts, this need precedes all further technical education that is also deemed necessary particularly for the various inspectors.

In discussions of the optimal way to deliver such knowledge and training, many civil society representatives emphasized the need for in-person training, ideally by going from ail to ail on the basis of written materials that can then be explained by trainers. There are also some possibilities to target younger audiences through social media.

It was surprising to hear that there currently does not appear to be any organized environmental movement/NGO in Uvs.

Mine rehabilitation a recurring challenge

Another strong message was that mine closure is one of the most difficult topics for officials as well as residents to grapple with. It is unclear to most residents what exactly successful rehabilitation might look like and the financial tools that would make this possible also remain very murky. This even though mine closure is a topic that has been addressed by several development projects, including some targeting of Uvs. A very interesting suggestion from a civil society representative was the notion of involving herders in reclamation projects.


Concerns about transparency of licensing and mining operations also centred on a lack of education. Without a deeper understanding of the workings of a mining industry, civil society representatives mentioned that attempts to press government officials for information have almost inevitably been blocked in part because the lack of precision in questions, and a lack of understanding of parts of government officials why transparency is an element in more inclusive and sustainable development. Civil society and business representatives in particular lamented the lack of willingness to provide information on the part of provincial and local officials.

Thanks to Oyun-Erdene Ch. and Damdinnyam G. for sharing their impressions of our visit.

An Aside: Social Media

You know that the world is run by social media when you notice that the middle-aged ladies representing civil society in a far western province of Mongolia are checking Twitter during the coffee break! I wonder if any of them follow me or if I follow them.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots @jdierkes@sciences.social and tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in CIRDI, Civil Society, Countryside, Development, Mining, Policy, Policy, Regulation, Social Issues, Social Movements, Water and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Learning about Development Policy in Uvs Aimag

  1. It will be fascinating to hear your comparisons of development policy in western Mongolia to other regions in the country. I think the region is quite unique given the influence of some of the groups in terms of political/economic power and social networks, a topic that Tuya Shagdar (an anthropology PhD student at the National University of Mongolia) has recently written about: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/mongolian-economy/2015/11/05/homeland-associations-and-the-production-of-informal-power-in-mongolia/

    As regards to mining and social/environmental movements, take a look at protests that occurred in Buhmoron soum in 2011/2012. They were some of the most dynamic, well-organized, and well-supported local protests against mineral exploration I have heard of in rural Mongolia. A large reason for this is because local people in Buhmoron were networked with Dorbet folks in Ulaanbaatar, Darhan, and Erdenet with power and prestige – notably the popular singer, Javkhlan. He went to Buhmoron to support the protesters in fall 2011, if I recall correctly. Members of Khokh Mongol (a social movement active at the time) also accompanied him, namely because the movement leaders were primarily, if not all, Dorbets.

    There are some videos on YouTube about the protest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCf28JUv0J0

    • Big Javkhlan fan, I am, though less so politically.

      Since this was my first visit, it was also the first time I had encountered discussions of ethnicity within Mongolia (other than Kazakh), so some of what you mention here in terms of protest, and also the strength of the homeland associations is high on my list to keep an eye on.

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