Bringing mountain peoples together
European regional authorities reach out to the poor
20 June 2007, Rome – Nearly one-third of the world’s food insecure live in mountain areas - over 245 million people, but development has barely touched many mountain communities. Increasingly, however, mountainous regions in Europe are providing resources and expertise to highland communities in developing countries.
French, Italian and Spanish mountain regions are working with local authorities and community groups in developing countries sometimes thousands of miles apart.
FAO is conducting a vigorous programme of Decentralized Cooperation with local administrations particularly in Italy where ten agreements have been signed at various levels, France (eight agreements) and Spain (two agreements) resulting in eighteen operational projects in the most needy areas of the world for a total budget value of US$13m.
The latest agreement, with Italy’s Val d'Aosta region, focuses on cooperation in support of mountain area development and is expected to lead to concrete initiatives for people living in these areas in developing countries. The problems usually encountered in developing regions are compounded in mountain areas by difficult climate conditions, transport and accessibility constraints and remoteness from urban centres.
“Mountain people often have a natural connection despite vast geographic distance and different income levels and lifestyles”, says FAO Director for Forest Management Division, José Antonio Prado.
Joint action between local groups in rich and poor countries through the sharing of skills and traditional practices, collectively known as decentralized cooperation, has benefits not only for the poor by providing access to resources as well as education, goods and services. It can also benefit wealthier partners by opening up new markets, through new product development such as speciality coffees, medicinal and aromatic plants, and as a means of protecting valuable natural repositories of freshwater and biodiversity.
Covering one-quarter of the world’s surface, only 12 percent of the global population live in mountain areas, but many of them are chronically undernourished. Yet mountains are the source of half of the world’s freshwater resources, while in dry and arid zones as much as 90 percent of freshwater comes from mountains.
Assistance to such communities could be the key to protecting and improving freshwater supplies while also closing the widening economic gap between mountain dwellers and the majority of populations living in lowlands.
With the world population expected to reach 8.1 billion people by 2030, 14 percent more freshwater will be needed by the agricultural sector in order to keep up with population growth.
Mountains are also storehouses of genetic diversity that help feed the world. Yet, mountains are under threat from climate change, overexploitation and environmental degradation.
Two events, on Decentralized Cooperation and Sustainable Mountain Development and the signing of an agreement between FAO and Italy’s Valle D’Aosta region, taking place on 20 and 22 June, will focus on FAO’s work with local authorities, as well as twinning efforts between mountain communities in the North and South.
In addition to its work in a number of technical areas like watershed management, food security and livelihood improvement, FAO’s work with mountains includes the SARD-M project focussing on promoting policies for mountain development. FAO also hosts the Secretariat of the Mountain Partnership established at the end of the International Year of Mountains in 2002, to help improve the lives of mountain people and protect mountainous areas around the world. The alliance is composed of 47 countries, 15 intergovernmental organizations and 82 private sector and civil society groups.
Through the Mountain Products Programme a range of high-quality products are promoted through funding provided by the Government of France, with contributions from Italy and the United Kingdom.
Media Relations, FAO
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