The following is an interview with general coordinator of the Organic Mongolia Program D.Onon about the program and environmental concerns in Mongolia.
Can you tell us why the Organic Mongolia Program was initiated?
The Organic Mongolia Program was launched in 2009 at the initiative of the Mongolian National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The program is beneficial to the whole society and contributes to Mongolia’s green development, the future development trend. It is proceeding successfully thanks to the participation and support of many organizations.
The concept and approach to digging up underground resources and using its profit to improve the lives of the public is only temporary. What’s more important than this is becoming environmentally friendly, developing agricultural production, and establishing an independent food security in Mongolia. We can live without the luxury of brand clothes, big houses, and expensive cars, but we can’t live without food, clean air and water.
We shouldn’t forget the foundation and most crucial sectors of Mongolia, which are agriculture and environment. The ultimate goal of all this effort is protection of the future of our children.
The program has been running for nearly seven years. Have you achieved what you wanted? Has the program shown any results?
During this time, our program team has helped many people by executing the Organic Mongolia micro-credit program. This sub-program was first started to provide flexible financial conditions and opportunities to small and medium-sized enterprises, family businesses and provincial brand producers working in the agricultural sector. As a result, people in the agricultural sector have begun to trust banks. Now, all banks are focusing on stabilizing and financially supporting the agricultural sector.
Banks have joined hands to develop the TOS Program as part of the policy to support lenders in the eco-friendly sector. Large international projects and programs have opened opportunities for Mongolia to generate capital for developing organic brand products and eco factories. I believe that our efforts have contributed to this at least a little.
The micro-credit program’s funding is like a drop of water compared to other projects’ financing. Even so, we’ve improved the livelihoods of more than 5,000 people and implemented over 600 projects through the Organic Mongolia micro-credit program. This is a huge achievement.
Future works will be aimed to increase organic food usage and eliminate food dependency. In relation, we’re undertaking all kinds of green initiatives, including green office, environment, education, habit, green residents, micro-districts and families.
How much financing is provided to people and what is the criteria for the financing? Do you monitor if the financing has reached its designated owner?
Our micro-credit loan fund amounts to 550 million MNT. Our monthly budget is less than five million MNT, but we complete double the amount of work other programs and projects do. For instance, international organizations allocate over 20 million MNT for a car’s annual expense.
Depending on the number of projects competing for a tender, we decide the number of people we will issue loans. We tell whether a project is supported or not on the spot to ensure fair and transparent selection process. The most important criteria is that the business is eco-friendly and operates properly. Although our program has the same motive as other projects and programs implemented by the state, we strive to aid the correct people at the correct time. Honestly, I doubt that the public will see much results if we wait for the state to take action. We must learn to use the opportunities and conditions we have.
The main flaw in the current society is that a lot of capital is spent on sectors that waste money rather than the ones that earn money. Many countries around the globe are regretting their reckless activities and conducts that harmed the environment. They are crying over spilt milk. However, it’s not too late for Mongolia to start protecting the environment. We should stop raiding Mother Nature as if we have some kind of grudge against it.
Mongolia actively started digging up the earth after being labeled as “beggars sitting on gold” as they thought people were making fun of the fact that Mongolia wasn’t efficiently using its opportunities. As a person who has conducted ample research in mining and agriculture, what do you think about this?
There are developed countries that mine deposits that contain natural resources worth millions with correct plans and even plan out how to rehabilitate the land and what kind of plants and trees to grow. They even plan the animals they want to localize beforehand as well. Some countries have turned ordinary mining sites into a beautiful tourism spot. Prominent mining experts say that Mongolia should have set the correct foundation from the start.
There’s still a chance to change and fix this. Instead of issuing licenses and enabling people to dig up holes here and there, only a couple of mines should be utilized. I think that it’s best to establish a mechanism that invests in SMEs engaged in agriculture. It’s not that we don’t have any opportunities, but that we’re not willing to find or see the vast amount of opportunities in front of us.
Many countries around the globe are regretting their reckless activities and conducts that harmed the environment. They are crying over spilt milk. However, it’s not too late for Mongolia to start protecting the environment. We should stop raiding Mother Nature as if we have some kind of grudge against it.
Many different types of activities are conducted through the Organic Mongolia Program. Would you say that the public received adequate ecological education?
Mongolia is a rare nationality in the world with an extremely rich ecological habit and custom. Mongolians forbid stepping on grass, picking growing plants, pouring milk and throwing dairy products into springs and ponds. No other country in the world has this type of culture. Our ancestors passed on all of this knowledge to us.
But now, all of this is losing its significance. Nowadays, people make fun of us, saying that we’re “eco-addicts and green-addicts” whenever we raise the issue of ecological education. We must love Mother Nature no matter what we do. Instead of getting stressed from traffic congestion and noise, drivers should park their car somewhere and walk. This is an eco-habit.
At least stop using elevators and save power. Although by a small amount, this will still help reduce air pollution and greenhouse effect. People think that they have to plant trees to live an eco-friendly life. This is merely a “board” we can see on the outside. People keep saying that technology is advancing so why are they still making piles and piles of paper? I’m really fascinated by this. I mean, why do they have computers and smartphones? This is something everyone should consider. Our team organizes workshops to make people notice these things.
Which age group participates in ecological workshops most actively?
We try to include everyone, including herders and farmers, civil servants, teenagers, students and kindergarten children, in workshops. We strive to organize workshops outside where they can actually touch and smell everything themselves rather than doing it inside. I hope that this campaign and program will not finish after a couple of months or years, but become a permanent national program of Mongolia.
Will the program be more effective if conducted in active mining regions and provinces? Have your voices reached residents living in provinces?
We work in few provinces. If possible, we would like to spread our good intentions to every soum and province, but we’re lacking finance and manpower. Starting a green wave nationwide is a huge objective. I hope everyone can contribute in this in any way that they can. I have been dedicating my youth, time and effort to contributing to the development of my country.
Starting a green wave nationwide is a huge objective. I hope everyone can contribute in this in any way that they can.
My family members have joined in this as well. What should be done to increase the use of organic food? What kind of policy would you recommend?
If we translate the word “organic” to Mongolian, it would carry the same meaning as “aminlag”, which means “ with life”. “Aminlag” food can only grow from a living environment, an environment that is clean and not ecologically polluted. It was observed that imports of organic food increased since the launch of the Organic Mongolia Program. It’s probably because people started to gain some understanding about organic food and what it actually is.
The majority of domestically produced products are organic. We have to discuss what kind of policy to uphold to keep it this way and not poison organic domestic products. A state policy and legal environment is definitely necessary for this. Many laws on organic food and organic fertilizers will probably be developed. Mongolia is in need of these law. The main agricultural policy should prioritize organic things and look 50 to 100 years ahead. Regions where organic food can be produced should be protected first.
Companies mustn’t do mining activities in these regions. I will stand firm and voice out on this matter.
What kind of activities have been planned for this year?
Real contributions will be made in establishing green education habits, healthy and correct lifestyle, and green environment. This year, we will set the foundation for creating an organic brand network in provinces. We strive to transition to a system that produces new products through demand, instead of a system that struggles to sell new products after producing them.
Our team will assist large international projects and programs with everything we’ve got.
Everyone can join the Organic Mongolia Program since it’s aimed towards the public interest of Mongolia and runs under transparent and fair principles. We will gladly support any idea submitted to our organization. We will not sit back just because we don’t have sufficient funds or opportunities.