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East meets West; Tradition meets Innovation
Mongolia countryside with traditional gers and modern Ulaanbaatar city (top and bottom).
Mongolia is a country of stark contrasts: rural, nomadic Mongols and their urban cousins forging headlong into the future, summer extremes as high as +38C versus winter lows down to -40C.
The harsh, extremely variable climate poses severe challenges to human and livestock survival, with more than 70% of the country consisting of permanent pasture-land. Climate change is exacerbating the balance with more frequent summer droughts coupled with deadly winter dzud (blizzards, drought, extreme cold and freezing rain).
It’s perhaps the need to face such extreme conditions that connects the urban hipster and the nomadic shepherd in a common love for democracy. The same democratic approach is present in the ADB (Asian Development Bank) “Climate-Resilient Rural Livelihoods in Mongolia” project (financed by Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction - JFPR) and in the associated activity (financed by ESA) looking at the role of EO information within this context.
The project brings together herders, land managers, officials and academic experts to promote a holistic approach to sustainable herding and livelihood diversification. The EO component (part of the ESA-ADB ‘EOTAP’ initiative) brings in European EO services suppliers to demonstrate how the current pool of satellite data can enhance current methods by providing the required environmental information.
The Portugese company Deimos Engenharia has been enriching the existing environmental database, maintained by the National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC) in Mongolia. This includes vegetation productivity and conditions data for drought monitoring at provincial level (Bayankhongor, in western Mongolia) for the year 2014, and Land Use/Land Cover (LULC) and changes mapping for three districts of this province (Buutsagaan, Dzag and Khureemaral) for the years 2013 and 2014.
Last 29-30 October 2015, more than 30 people ranging from local district land managers, to provincial and ministerial pasture, environmental and GIS experts, to academic institutions, ABD project management unit components and European developers of EO services gathered at the premises of the Mongolian University of Life Sciences to participate to a knowledge-sharing workshop.
The event was organised and sponsored by the ADB and the Mongolian Ministry of Agriculture and Small Industry.
Starting from the simple idea of demonstrating the use of EO-based products, the two days saw a sharing of experiences from past JFPR projects on pasture mapping, monitoring and management, to the assessing the impacts of each of the measures taken within the ongoing project since its beginning in 2012. These measures included the implementation of water points, the rotational use of pastures (built on centuries of traditional practices), and the introduction of endemic pasture vegetation species more adapted to current and future climate conditions.
Through a series of tutorial, hands-on sessions, participants were able to understand in more depth the EO-derived information value and potential impact, particularly in relation to the rich in-situ field data. Advantages and limitations were addressed in detail as well as the promising prospects of EO-based information for drought warning and monitoring vegetation changes with Sentinel-2 fully operational.
The impressive technical knowledge of participants was contrasted with the practical difficulties of the language barrier, with a very low number of people, even from the academic world, being knowledgeable of English. So this final Mongolian contrast (from a country of contrasts) raises a provocative question: is the Western scientific world (so largely based on literature in English) democratic enough for democratic Mongolians?
Comparison between MODIS average pasture NDVI for the 2000-2013 time series between April and October and the corresponding Deimos-1/DMCii 2014 average (with the full temporal detail in the middle image) for three different regions in the north, center and south of the Bayankhongor province in southeast Mongolia.
NDVI statistics extracted from the Deimos-1/DMCii April to October 2014 time series to help characterize the growing season in the Bayankhongor province in southeast Mongolia.
Hands-on training on EO products during the event