They are as many as one billion human beings, often geographically isolated, living on the political and economic margins of their countries, and thus more prone to hunger and poverty. On top of this, they are increasingly affected by climate change and climate-induced disasters. As a logic, understandable consequence, the mountain people become more vulnerable. And so they migrate to urban areas and even abroad.
The dramatic situation of mountain people could hardly be more accurately depicted as the United Nations has done on the occasion of the 11 December 2017 International Mountain Day: Mountains under Pressure: climate, hunger, migration. Moreover, one in three mountain people in developing countries is vulnerable to food insecurity. For rural areas, it is one out of every two people, according to Maria Helena Semedo, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s deputy director-general. Those who remain are often women, left to manage the farms but with little access to credit, training and land tenure rights, reminds the UN specialised agency.
What You Should Know (and Probably You Don’t)
The food and agriculture organisation also provides the following key facts:
· Mountain tourism attracts about 15-20 per cent of global tourism.
· Covering around 22 per cent of the earth's land surface, mountains play a critical role in moving the world towards sustainable economic growth.
· Mountains not only provide sustenance and well being to 915 million mountain people around the world but also indirectly benefit billions more living downstream.
· They also provide freshwater, energy and food - resources that will be increasingly scarce in coming decades.
· Mountains are home to 13 per cent of the world’s population.
· 90 per cent of the world’s mountain dwellers live in developing countries, where a vast majority live below the poverty line and 1 out of 3 faces the threat of food insecurity.
· Indigenous and local populations in mountains have unique and valuable local knowledge, traditions and cultural practices that can contribute to effective land management strategies.
· Mountain products and services have great potential to improve livelihoods and boost local economies.
· Worldwide demand is on the rise for quality, high-value foods and beverages produced in mountain areas, such as coffee, honey, herbs and spices, as well as handicrafts, cosmetics and medicines.
· To fully tap the potential of mountain products, small producers would benefit from targeted support in adequate value chains and marketing strategy, which would allow them to obtain fair compensation for their specific quality products as well as provide added value to the customers.
Mountains and Water
· Mountains provide 60-80 percent of the world's freshwater - without which sustainable development that aims to eliminate poverty and hunger would not be possible.
· Fresh water from mountains is fundamental for achieving global food security, as it is used by farmers to irrigate crops in many lowland agricultural regions.
· Some of the world's largest cities, including New York, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Tokyo and Melbourne, are dependent on freshwater from mountains.
Mountains and Energy
· Mountains have a key role to play in providing renewable energy, especially through hydropower, solar power, wind power and biogas.
· Hydropower currently provides around a fifth of all electricity worldwide, and some countries rely almost exclusively on mountain regions for hydropower generation.
· Mountains in regions with a dry or tropical climate hold particular potential for the generation of solar energy.
Mountains and Food
· Mountains contribute to food and nutrition security by providing land for crops, grazing for livestock, watercourses for inland fisheries, and non-wood forest products such as berries, mushrooms and honey.
· Mountain farming has been a model for sustainable development for centuries and is inherently "green" thanks to its small-scale character and low-carbon footprint.
· Of the 20 plant species that supply 80 percent of the world's food, six originated and have been diversified in mountains: maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, quinoa, tomatoes and apples.
Mountain Family Farming
· Mountain farming is largely family farming as mountain areas, with their dispersed patches of usable land at different elevations and slope conditions, are more efficiently managed by small-scale farming.
· Most of the production of mountain farming is for family consumption, playing a key role in ensuring household food security.
· The production and marketing of high-value mountain products can boost local mountain economies.
Mountain livelihoods tend to be highly diversified and this has proven to be a key to resilience. Some family members may work in agriculture (farming, forestry, aquaculture or animal husbandry) and may be employed on a regular or seasonal basis or even abroad.
Commitments or Just Promises?
Some 60 countries and over 200 civil society organisations on 11 December 2017 pledged on the International Mountain Day to strengthen mountain people’s and their environments’ resilience in the face of rising climate change, hunger and migration, and ensure sustainable mountain development is integrated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The members of the Mountain Partnership - an alliance founded in 2002 by Italy, Switzerland, FAO, and UN Environment Programme, with over 300 members from the government, intergovernmental, civil society and private sectors - pledged that, by 2030:
• Governments will review and update their development policies to integrate appropriate strategies for sustainable mountain development and mountain ecosystem conservation.
• Governments, intergovernmental organisations and donors will review and update their international development cooperation policies to make sustainable mountain development and mountain ecosystem conservation an integral part of these policies.
• They will raise awareness on the importance of sustainable mountain development and mountain ecosystem conservation in all relevant international forums.
Sounds good, but... will they really meet their commitments? ...