Mongolia is a landlocked nation set between the two powers of Russia and China. The geography of its borders with China, however, gives Mongolia some natural boundaries with the rising power. To the south and east lies the Gobi Desert, and Mongolia's west is anchored by the Altai Mountains. Many ethnic Mongolians live within the borders of China's Inner Mongolia, which acts as a buffer zone between Mongolia and China's inner-core region. The land area of Mongolia is about the same size as Iran. Its Kuwait-sized population of 3 million, 45% of which lives in the capital of Ulan Bator, however, makes Mongolia a sparsely populated nation.
More central to Mongolia and its history than deserts and mountains is the steppe. Steppe refers to an eco-region of semiarid grassland plains too dry to support forests but not as dry as a desert. Such an area is generally unsuitable to cultivation. Today, less than 1% of Mongolia's arable land is used for crops (due to extreme weather and climate variations, Mongolian growing seasons last a short 95-110 days of the year). Nevertheless, agriculture plays an important part of Mongolia's economy. This is because most people in Mongolian agriculture use the steppe for what it's best at: nomadic animal husbandry.
|The Eurasian Steppe: Stretching from Manchuria to eastern Europe, the Mongols under Genghis Khan took advantage of it to use armies on horseback to conquer much of the Eurasian landmass.