The Korea Forest Service and the Mongolian Forestry Alliance are combating desertification

Under the shared goal of tackling the climate crisis, Korea and Mongolia have pioneered a green belt project, a testament to their relationship and a joint effort to rejuvenate desert-forming landscapes.

The beginning of the Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project dates back to 2006, when the Korea Forest Service, the national forest agency and the Mongolian Ministry of Environment and Tourism formalized their forestry cooperation to combat yellow dust and prevent desertification in Mongolia with a memorandum of understanding . .

Mongolia is facing increasing desertification due to several human factors, including overgrazing and climate change. Forest areas are shrinking and the landscape is shifting from forest to grassland and grassland to desert. As pastures disappear, sand movements, yellow dust storms and desertification processes accelerate, requiring policy intervention.

In 2005, Mongolia launched a green belt program to address these challenges. Aiming to build a vast forest to block winds between the Gobi Desert and grassland areas, the government targeted a 1.6 percent increase in Mongolia’s forest area.

The initiative required significant financial and technical resources. Despite efforts to leverage central and local government budgets, foreign aid, and international loans, the estimated cost of $3 billion made it difficult to attract willing partners.

South Korea – which has had close ties with Mongolia since the two countries established diplomatic relations in March 1990 and signed a forestry cooperation agreement in 1998 – decided to join the three-phase project.

The reforestation site of the Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project in Lun, Mongolia, began in 2008. (Korea Forest Service)

The reforestation site of the Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project in Lun, Mongolia, began in 2008. (Korea Forest Service)

Cultivating reforestation techniques

Reforestation efforts have made progress during the first phase of the joint project, which ran from 2007 to 2016, with a focus on creating forests with the aim of halting desertification.

Korean experts played a crucial role in the project, as Mongolia lacked large-scale reforestation technology and experience at the time.

Key locations for the initiative included: Lun Som in Tuv province, 130 kilometers west of Ulaanbaatar; Dalanzadgad in Umnugobi province, 600 kilometers south of the capital; and Bayanzag, another 100 kilometers from Dalanzagad.

These areas became the focus of reforestation, with nurseries at each station. About 838,000 trees were planted on 3,046 hectares, or 30.46 million square meters, including 23 species, such as saxaul and Ulmus pumila. The nurseries within the locations together covered an area of ​​47 hectares.

Phase one also included an educational component. Training approximately 8,000 Mongolians in reforestation techniques to ensure sustainability, the decade-long training and joint research highlighted the importance of reforestation. Demonstrating that even arid areas could support tree planting raised awareness of the importance of preventing desertification.

In response, the Mongolian government designated the second Saturdays of May and October as Arbor Days and revised forest-related legislation accordingly.

The nurseries and reforested areas developed during phase one of the project gradually transferred responsibilities to Mongolian management, with an emphasis on local stewardship. The Korea-Mongolian Greenbelt Plantation Project team handed over the reforested areas in Lun, Dalanzadgad and Bayanzag to the respective regional governments.

The Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project team is participating in the reforestation of Mongolia's vast degraded steppe areas.  (Korean Forest Service)

The Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project team is participating in the reforestation of Mongolia’s vast degraded steppe areas. (Korean Forest Service)

Urban forests in Ulaanbaatar

Phase two began in 2017 and lasted until 2021, highlighting the need for new forestry policies to address the challenges of climate change and desertification in Mongolia. One of the major issues emerging from Mongolia’s environmental crisis is the population concentration in Ulaanbaatar. Rapid urbanization and population growth have led to less green space in the city, underscoring the need for urban forests.

The Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Project aimed to establish Mongolia’s first urban forest in the northern part of Ulaanbaatar to reduce severe air pollution. The Sukhbaatar district was chosen for this initiative, with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism providing land owned by the Forestry Development Research Center. An advisory team was formed to prepare the establishment of the urban forest, focusing on soil, water resources, local environment and tree species selection.

Phase two of the urban forest project focused on expanding the city’s green spaces, incorporating input from local residents. The construction of a 40-hectare urban forest began in the northern part of Ulaanbaatar, marking an important step towards improving the urban environment and residents’ quality of life.

The secondary phase culminated in September 2021, despite disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic. KFS notes that the urban forest, which was built in five years, has become a landmark symbolizing the friendship between Korea and Mongolia.

KFS defines an urban forest as the harmonization of the ecosystem and landscape of the city, which provides green spaces where people can enjoy forest recreation. A visitors center has also been established in the forest to showcase the achievements of the Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project and promote Korea’s forestry policy.

On May 11 this year, Mongolia’s National Tree Planting Day, a large-scale tree planting event was held at the site, attended by Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh and more than 80 participants.

Participants in the large-scale tree planting event held in the urban forest in the northern part of Ulaanbaatar on May 11, Mongolia's National Tree Planting Day, pose for a photo.  (Korean Forest Service)

Participants in the large-scale tree planting event held in the urban forest in the northern part of Ulaanbaatar on May 11, Mongolia’s National Tree Planting Day, pose for a photo. (Korean Forest Service)

Planting trees nationally

The Mongolian president announced the Billion Tree Movement at the 76th United Nations General Assembly in September 2021, a pledge to plant one billion trees in Mongolia by 2030.

The project was driven with the aim of combating climate change, preventing desertification and promoting green economic development. This campaign is divided into three phases: a four-year preparation phase starting in 2021, a three-year acceleration phase starting in 2024 and a stabilization phase from 2027 to 2030.

Several actions have been taken to support the success of this tree planting project. The Billion Tree Fund was established to provide financial support, and the forestry policy department within the Mongolian Ministry of Environment and Tourism was elevated to the status of the National Forest Agency. Legal frameworks for tree planting were also revised and a large-scale forestry conference was held in 2022 to outline the future of forestry in Mongolia.

Continued cooperation in forestry

Phase three, which runs from 2022 to 2026, is an extensive forestry cooperation project. This phase focuses on restoring areas damaged by forest fires in northern Mongolia, establishing an effective wildfire suppression system and creating infrastructure to combat desertification.

The construction of public-private partnership forests to support corporate environmental, social and governance activities and support in the Billion Tree Movement will also take place to enhance the capabilities of Mongolia’s forestry sector.

This year marks the 18th anniversary of the Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project’s inception in 2007. KFS considers this project one of the most successful partnerships between Korea and Mongolia.

In May, the Korea-Mongolian Greenbelt Plantation Project team of 19 organizations received top marks for project implementation and management during a performance review and presentation organized by the Mongolian Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

In response to increased interest from the Billion Tree Movement, KFS plans to further enhance forestry cooperation between the two countries.

“Phase three will focus on strengthening capabilities in wildfire management, nursery and education programs, forestation and agroforestry. We will continue our efforts to improve sustainability and share Korea’s advanced forestry technologies in various fields,” said a KFS official.