Is it too cold for vegetables in Mongolia?

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Local news, 23.01.2023

“Mongolia has a harsh environment for farming, and only the central northern parts are suitable for vegetable farming. It’s not possible to have vegetables all year round in these conditions.” This was the unspoken belief for almost everyone, with many days of -40 C temperatures during the long winter and only a short summer spell.

Vegetable cooperatives in Mongolia
Vegetable cooperatives in Mongolia ©SDC

Most vegetables were imported except during the autumn harvest when a handful of root vegetables were displayed for only a few days in Ulaanbaatar’s main markets. That was the story until the Inclusive Sustainable Vegetable Production and Marketing project started in 2015. 

Skilful agronomists from across the country and small-scale farmers are the main heroes of the story of the vegetable boom. Researchers at agronomy institutions painstakingly took notes on the progress of vegetable seedlings and plants in their laboratories, greenhouses, and open fields from spring to autumn. They grew vegetable varieties most suitable for Mongolia’s climatic conditions, selecting those to be further cultivated. Around 20-40 varieties of at least 10 vegetable species are tested each year, with only some being approved for the national registry. Seed growers take around 2-3 years to grow each of the 15 types of seeds on the registry. They now proudly supply vegetable farmers with high-quality seeds, previously only available through import, leaving farmers with all the risks associated with low-quality seeds. Seed production was further strengthened by the updated Law on Seed and Plant Varieties, which gives local seed production protection and support from the government. Farmers now have a selection of seeds for various carrots, cabbages, onions, and tomatoes that can not only withstand a few nights of frostbite during the growing season but some that can be harvested in July. Some varieties of certain types of vegetables can better withstand transportation, like Tolstoi tomatoes or the now popular Hurricane cabbage, which can be stored for as long as the next year’s harvest season. 

Now, the Green Autumn Days exhibition takes place with rows and rows of different vegetables in stalls at the main stadium in Ulaanbaatar and the main markets in each province centre. Vegetable sales do not stop with the exhibitions. The secondary cooperative Tsever Hursnii Shim (Nutrients From Pristine Soil), set up by members of primary cooperatives in almost every province, has contracts to supply major supermarket chains and restaurants throughout the year, overtaking the domestic market share of big farming companies. School lunch programmes and big mining company procurement tenders are now mainly in the hands of the cooperative, with sales doubling each year. The cooperative notes that all their members are Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) certified and can assure consumers that the vegetables they supply come with the guarantee that all food safety standards are strictly complied with. With the project ending in 2023, it is now apparent that Mongolia can produce 100 percent of its vegetables locally in only a couple of years, with each link of the production chain functioning like clockwork and consumers choosing domestic vegetables over imported. Family dining tables now display all kinds of vegetables, with healthier diets trending and lunches and dinners enriched with salads and vegetable dishes.

The Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development’s Mongolia phase-out in 2024 is leaving the country entirely self-sufficient in potato production with the success of the Mongolian Potato Project (2004-2015) and the production of root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and turnips. We are greatly assured that the same success will be achieved for other vegetable production, with strong farming value chains functional at all levels.    

For more information Inclusive Sustainable Vegetable Production and Marketing project