Nature-based Solutions in Inner Mongolia: Restoration by Design

Published: 24 September 2021
Last edited: 06 February 2023
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The Nature Conservancy partnered with government agencies and philanthropic partners to restore degraded land in Inner Mongolia, leveraging a Restoration by Design approach to pinpoint Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for maximum impact, build resilience against climate change, and strengthen community livelihoods and wellbeing. This “Restoration by Design” approach was first leveraged in Helinge’er County in 2010, a typical agro-pasture ecotone in central Inner Mongolia. Over 10 years, TNC and partners carried out innovative approaches, such as carbon sink trading, meteorological apps for grassland management, and “dry farming” techniques for sustainable farmland management, all of which have become common practice of the local people in Helinge’er. RbD activities resulted in restored ecosystems, a decrease in sandstorm impacts, and more efficient use of natural resources in farming, among other benefits. TNC is now promoting RbD to the broader areas of Inner Mongolia with three more project sites in the works.


East Asia
Scale of implementation
Grassland ecosystems
Rangeland / Pasture
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Ecosystem services
Forest Management
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Land management
Science and research
Standards/ certification
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Inner Mongolia, People's Republic of China
Horinger County, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, People's Republic of China


Over a long period of time, unsustainable land use (overgrazing, inappropriate land reclamation and cultivation, excessive forest logging and excessive use of water resources) and changing climate have damaged the fragile ecology of Inner Mongolia, resulting in land degradation and the loss of ecosystem service function. Furthermore, climate change is further intensifying the impact of human activities. Both historical data & observation and future simulations have predicted the dry-warming trend in eastern and central Inner Mongolia. The alarming consequences of water shortage and desertification, which will pose an immediate threat to local ecology and production, and people’s livelihood. 


Local farmers, herders: improved soil health; more efficient resource use; resilience to climate change

Community: pride & connection to restored land; ecotourism/education destination; reduced impact from sandstorms

Government: motivation to conserve nature

How do the building blocks interact?

Restoration by Design (RbD) is a conservation approach that allows multidisciplinary teams to a) pinpoint areas of high return for biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and ecological restoration b) apply targeted NbS that will benefit both nature and local communities and c) help areas mitigate and adapt to climate change. Crucially, these building blocks must consider the interests and risks of the local community at every level in order to build trust and help local communities build a climate-resilient future in their homeland. RbD is an approach that can be applied by any conservationist working in partnership with local communities, NGOs, government groups, and civil society organizations.


These five building blocks are interactive and iterative – and we continue to learn from each of these stages and apply findings throughout the lifecycle of the project. 



Environmental benefits:

  • Afforestation preservation rate has been maintained above 85%
  • Undergrowth vegetation coverage increased by more than 60%
  • Grassland productivity per unit area increased by 60-94%
  • Plant diversity increased from ~ 40 to 80 species; significant for arid and semi-arid areas
  • Soil health has significantly improved
  • Demonstration area absorbs 5,463 tons of CO2 annually, fixes 25,000 tons of soil, and controls soil erosion

Social and economic benefits:

Helinge’er is the focus of government-led poverty reduction efforts. Many people live below/near the poverty level, especially within our project site.

  • 18 long-term jobs
  • Short-term and seasonal work: 1.14 million working days for 10,000+ people (2,690 rural households) with historically little access to additional income. 
  • Thousands of farmers in nearby communities improved household income after adopted our new techniques by 2,000 yuan (~ $308 USD) annually, about a 20% increase.


Climate, Community and Biodiversity

TNC partnered with The Walt Disney Company on forestry carbon sink trade in the international voluntary carbon market. The 3 million planted trees are expected to capture more than 160,000 tons of carbon sink over the next 30 years, and the project, the first ever in Inner Mongolia, has been awarded Gold Level CCB Certification by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA).


The COVID-19 pandemic upended our worlds and daily routines. Due to containment measures, many people—particularly university students, migrant and seasonal works, and underemployed people—were forced to return to their hometowns for an extended period of time. The same was true in Inner Mongolia and in the surrounding communities of Helinge’er where TNC leads Restoration by Design conservation work.

Helinge’er has historically experienced a high rate of poverty, forcing many people to leave for extended periods of time to seek work and education. With COVID restrictions in place, many community members were encountering the benefits of a decade-long conservation effort for the first time. They were spending more time outside and able to witness how barren lands have turned into layers of green with increased sightings of wildlife such as red foxes, rabbits, pheasants, roe and deer. The dust storms that overcast the Spring skies and caused physical discomfort for people were now gone.

Seeing the regenerative potential of the ecosystem and Nature-based Solutions has sparked reconnection to this ecosystem. Young people now feel connected to their land, their heritage, and their culture like never before—and they are beginning to see a future for their lives on the homeland.

TNC Inner Mongolia work has proven to be successful because it takes into consideration of local people’s experiences from the early planning stage. Our fieldwork investigations and community surveys reinforced what we had learned through literature and scientific reviews: climate impacts are not only felt by the land, but the people who live there too. We learned what challenges farmers, herders, and communities’ members were facing as a result of environmental degradation and helped them see how NbS could alleviate those problems. 

Today, people visit Helinge’er to witness the dramatic improvements of the land, which stand in stark contrast to nearby degraded systems that have not been involved in conservation work.

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Sargai Sha The Nature Conservancy