Covering an area of 1.564.116 km2, around tree times the size of France, (DK 42.916) Mongolia is the 19th largest and the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, with a population of around 2,9 million people. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by steppe, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south.
Mongolia is high (560 – 4374 m above the sea level), cold and windy. It has an extreme continental
climate with long, cold winters and short hot summers (-50 to +30 °C), during which most of its annual precipitation falls. The annual average temperature in Ulaanbaatar is 0 °C, making it the world’s coldest capital city
Agriculture in Mongolia constitutes 20.6% of Mongolia’s annual Gross domestic product and
employs 42% of the labor force. However, the high altitude, extreme fluctuation in temperature, long winters, and low precipitation provides limited potential for agricultural development.
The growing season is only 95 – 110 days. Because of Mongolia’s harsh climate, it is unsuited to most cultivation. Only 1% of the arable land in Mongolia is cultivated with crops.
Mongolia is one of the few truly pastoral countries. Its cold, arid climate is suitable for extensive, transhumant grazing with local, hardy breeds, which is still practised with few inputs other than the hard work and skill of the herders.
Today, one-third of Mongolia’s population of 2.9 million is engaged in herding.
The herders all practice transhumance; this means that they must move seasonally with their livestock on the pastures.
The Mongolian nomads normally move a couple of times a year. The winter location is usually located near mountains in a valley, and most families have their fixed winter locations. The winter locations have shelter for the animals and are not used by other families while they are out. In the summer they move to a more open area where the animals can graze. Also most nomads usually move in the same region and don’t travel very far to a totally different region. Because they usually circle around a large area, a community gets formed and the other families generally know where the other ones are. A family can move on its own or with others and if it moves alone, they are usually couple of kilometres from each other.
Since Mongolia has only been cultivated in few areas and is so sparsely populated, there is virtually no
pollution in rural areas. There is a natural fauna with incredible biodiversity that has never been exposed to insecticides or pesticides.
The extreme continental climate in Mongolia has affected the traditional diet, so the Mongolian cuisine primarily consists of dairy products, meat, and animal fats. Use of vegetables and spices is limited.
The nomads of Mongolia sustain their lives directly from the products of domesticated animals such as cattle, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, goats, reindeer and sometimes game.
The Mongolian diet includes a large proportion of animal fat which is necessary for the Mongols to withstand the cold winters and their hard work. Winter temperatures are as low as −40 °C and outdoor work requires sufficient energy reserves. Generally dairy products are prepared during spring and
summer months to last over the long winter. In rural areas nomadic families prepare traditionally
conserved dairy products for the customary winter diet of meat and milk.