Head for the Steppes - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Head for the Steppes

Head for the Steppes

By Anne Miller

Small scale gold miners checking for gold at a new mercury-free processing facility in Mandal district, northern Mongolia.


Because their beef is only a small fraction of what makes Mongolia a force to be reckoned with.

By Anne Miller

Mongolia, man. That’s where it’s at. 

Big money movers predict that the land of yaks and Khans will turn serious cash in the next few years. In fact, it’s already begun. 

Woman walking between tents towards the camera during the day

The Tsankhi section of the Tavan Tolgoi coal deposit in South Gobi, Mongolia

Source Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty

But it’s not all so rosy. There’s inflation, and corruption, to start – says investment bank ResCap. Then there’s the trouble with siphoning off water for mining in one of the world’s driest countries, not to mention the massive income inequality that comes from living in a country with volatile export pricing.


Private firms estimate around $1.3 trillion worth of untapped precious earthen minerals lie below the tundra. Think: gold, oil, natural gas, and the world’s largest untapped copper deposit, near the Chinese border. All in a country about the population size of Tampa, Fla., or Baltimore, Md.* One report says there are 6,000 known deposits, but only 27 percent of that natural bounty has been surveyed. The International Monetary Fund predicts almost 12 percent growth in the GDP this year, on top of last year’s 12 percent bump. 

So will Mongolia be the next international economic superstar, like Oman?  

Further proof – can China, Armani, and KFC all be wrong? China buys 90 percent of Mongolian coal – and that appetite isn’t slowing anytime soon. Plus, deep-pocketed global retailers have been opening up shop in the capital city of UlanBaatar. With one of the lowest population densities in the world — one person for about every square mile, or 1.6 km — there’s room out there for the next big mineral rush. 

So will Mongolia be the next international economic superstar, like Oman? In the past decade there household incomes rose almost 84 percent, car ownership became almost universal and the government invested heavily in job creation and welfare programs. Of course, Mongolia doesn’t have a sultan, and only time will tell if the underground resources can be turned into an above-ground windfall for locals

Plus, it’s not an easy jaunt (22 hours from New York on a really, really good day). Chinese investors can saunter over faster than anyone. Ready, set…

*Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this sentence incorrectly stated the size of Mongolia compared to two U.S. cities. It compares in population size, not geographic size.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories