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Mongolia’s Freshwater Revolution

09 February 2017

MONGOLIA - Can a government project, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, make fish a staple product of the second-largest landlocked country on earth? Mainbayar Badarch reports on the promising first steps in bringing large-scale aquaculture to Mongolia’s rivers and lakes

Today, fish farming counts as a minor industry in Mongolia. However, over the last few years the Mongolian government has been taking action to develop it. In 2009 the government launched its countrywide “Food Security” programme, a two-stage initiative that was fully implemented in 2016.

One component of the plan was the national fish sub-programme, which the Ministry of Food and Agriculture launched in 2012. A main goal of the sub-programme was to support fish farmers, both in Mongolia’s provinces and in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, with fish resources, with the ultimate aim of expanding domestic fish production to supply 25 per cent of the country’s fish consumption.

Under the fish sub-programme, feasibility studies have been conducted to assess whether fish farms could be established in several big lakes throughout Mongolia. One such project has been approved, and it is to be built using closed fish ponds on Terkhiin Tsagaan lake in Arkhangai province, Central Mongolia. Its capacity is expected to be 50-70 tons of breeding fish per year.

The fish sub-programme’s primary activity has been in the area of technical assistance. From April 2014 to November 2016 the Mongolian government implemented a project jointly with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called “Developing aquaculture for improved fish supply in Mongolia”.

With a budget of USD 268,000, the project involved training 34 employees in cold-water fish-raising techniques and sending three experts to Harbin City, China, for a fish-farming workshop. In addition, the project consultants published a manual for fish farmers and oversaw the translation of the FAO document “Technical guidance for raising Siberian sturgeon in cold water” into the Mongolian language.

The project established two model fish farms in the Tuul River Basin, known as “Sturgeon OST” and “Small Brook”. FAO consultants assisted in the design of the farms and helped to build Small Brook on a 500 square metre site. (The FAO’s technical assistance also supported the establishment of a research laboratory for fish health at the National Agricultural University.)

“Sturgeon OST”, meanwhile, was the sub-programme’s main recipient of help. The fish farm received a loan in the amount of 200 million Mongolian tughrik (around USD 80,000), which it combined with its own investment of 400 million tughrik (around USD 160,000) to fund the construction of outdoor fish ponds.

Part of the loan was used to set up fish cages within the enclosed areas of the lake to protect the fish. The farm received a further 200 million tughrik loan from the Ulaanbaatar city fund for small and medium enterprises under the sub-programme. This loan is intended to expand the operation with more fishponds for taimen and lenok. At the moment, the farm raises 17 types of fish in its 5km-long lake and supplies 20,000 tons of fish for consumers in Ulaanbaatar annually. The owners are planning to construct a tourism complex based on the fish farm by 2020.

Altanshand Badarch, general director of Sturgeon OST, says that many lakes and rivers are likely to dry up due to a mining boom in recent years. As a result, some species of fish have been disappearing. Aquaculture is, therefore, of special importance in terms of protecting and restoring endangered fish species, in addition to the health benefits fish meat will have for human consumers.

Along with the fish sub-programme, the local authorities of the northern provinces, where rivers and lakes are abundant, have taken steps to boost local aquaculture. In Selenge province, for example, where the Selenge river feeds Russia’s Baikal lake, several feasibility studies are underway. Also, Khuvsgul province has announced a plan to develop fish farming on itsa big freshwater lake, Khuvsgul.

Experts agree that the project has built solid foundations for developing aquaculture in Mongolia. As a side benefit, it has increased the number of sturgeon in Mongolia, in a clear demonstration of the feasibility of large-scale fish farming in Mongolia.

 

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