Environmental Rehabilitation: Learnings from Artisanal Miners in Mongolia

Magnus Arrevad
Published: 28 March 2019
Last edited: 12 November 2020
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Artisanal mining can significantly degrade the environment. It is also a difficult sector to engage with given its informality and lack of institutional identity.


The Frugal Rehabilitation Methodology (FRM) is a practical approach that is economically affordable, socially acceptable and equally importantly, ecologically viable. FRM is comprised  of the following six steps:

1. Preparation and Planning;

2. Technical Rehabilitation;

3. Topsoils: identification, conservation/storage and use;

4. Biological rehabilitation;

5) Mitigation hierarchy/whole mine cycle approach;

6. Handover of completed rehabilitation site to relevant government administrations for approval/sign-off.


The technical and biological rehabilitation prescriptions are specifically designed for application at degraded and abandoned ASM sites as well as active ASM areas that are soon to be rehabilitated. The prescriptions are specifically designed for artisanal mining of alluvial and hard rock deposits.


East Asia
Scale of implementation
Cold desert
Desert ecosystems
Forest ecosystems
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Legal & policy frameworks
Traditional knowledge
Other theme
Environmental Governance
Participatory Environmental Management Planning
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 9: Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources




One of the key obstacles to stakeholder and acceptance to ASM communities is a negative reputation associated with poor environmental performance, land degradation and pollution. This was recognised in Mongolia as a primary obstacle to formalisation and social acceptance amongst impacted stakeholders; artisanal miners would need to demonstrate improved rehabilitation commitments and practices, but there would be challenges associated with economic affordability and the technical capacity of the sector. Therefore the concept of FRM was considered as a practical approach to rehabilitation that would be economically affordable, socially acceptable and equally importantly, ecologically viable. In every context, the FRM would need to balance these three considerations.


FRM has ensured that the formalised ASM sector operates to a higher standard of environmental responsibility, and addresses rehabilitation of degraded lands. Main beneficiaries are ASM and local communities, the Ministry of Mines and Environment.

How do the building blocks interact?

The Frugal Rehabilitation Methodology (FRM) is an environmental tool that can be delivered through partnership at the national and local levels of government and through engagement with local stakeholders. Developing and cultivating consensus among parties on the value and efficacy of the FRM is important and this step is crucial. Participatory approaches to selecting, evaluating and learning from frugal rehabilitation demonstration establishes a platform for the methodology to be adopted, incorporated into legislation and integrated into local environmental management planning systems.  The following graphic indicates such a model:


The following positive impacts were observed after the study in Mongolia:

  • Successful siting, development, implementation and monitoring of 17 Frugal Rehabilitation Demonstration projects across 11 of Mongolia’s 16 ecological zones 
  • Development of a guide to apply FRM in other contexts
  • Improved rehabilitation commitments by ASM in Mongolia
  • Capacity-building of multi-stakeholder in inclusive approaches to environmental governance
  • FRM went through an exhaustive consultative process with national government and other stakeholder advisors, resulting in an approved attachment to a revised Regulation for Artisanal and Small-scale Mining to be passed by the government 


Artisanal and small-scale mining in Mongolia is driven by economic hardship and opportunity and yet causes a wide variety of environmental and social problems. In 2016, The Asia Foundation’s Mongolia team was running an Environmental Planning workshop in Gurvantes in the South Gobi. The workshop was attended by Protected Area administrators from the Ministry of Environment as well as government officials. After the workshop our party travelled north into the Nemegt Uul, a range of mountains within the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park,  where in recent years, illegal artisanal gold mining had penetrated these mountains, degrading the slopes and dry riverbeds and causing severe impacts on wildlife and livestock of nomadic herders. The presence of officials was important. The project’s commitment to supporting and implementing the FRM within a number of Protected Areas was key to maintaining the Ministry of Environment’s interest and faith in the project’s key goal. 


At the beginning of the project, the Environment Ministry was in conflict with the Ministry of Mining. Their response to the widespread impacts of illegal artisanal mining was to ban the sector completely. The project’s aim was to develop a rehabilitation methodology that could be used to achieve formalisation of the ASM sector, conditional upon effective rehabilitation and commitment to confirm PAs as no-go areas for ASM. Showing that artisanal miners could effectively rehabilitate damage caused in such Protected Areas was key to the relationship and such undertakings had been implemented at four Protected Areas in different ecosystems across the country.  The Nemegt site was one such demonstrated commitment.


I remember it was mid-afternoon in June when we walked onto the site. Rehab had been undertaken the previous year, when hundreds of pits and shafts had been infilled and reprofiled, demonstrating that rehabilitation was affordable and achievable at a challenging site. The previous summer (2015) had fortunately seen good rains, which had helped the biological rehabilitation.  We walked right into the middle of the rehabilitation area.  A leading official from the Protected Areas Administration asked, “Well, where is this mine site?” My response was “You are standing in the middle of it.”  For a moment, he and his colleagues were bewildered, and then they smiled, as they realised what has been achieved. Frugal rehabilitation works.

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Jonathan Stacey

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