Sustainable Mountain Development

Event objective

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in collaboration with the International Year of Mountains Focus Group, is hosting a side event on mountains at the World Food Summit: five years later. The International Year of Mountains Focus Group represents 15 countries1 that support the implementation of the International Year of Mountains.

The event aims to share information about regional and country visions, strategic plans and achievements regarding sustainable mountain development; the global partnership on mountains that will be established at the upcoming World Food Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg to fulfil the commitments of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21; plans and opportunities for follow-up to the International Year of Mountains; and research on hunger, poverty and food security in mountains.


FAO was invited by the United Nations General Assembly to lead the UN system's support to the International Year of Mountains. This is an extension of FAO's responsibility as task manager for implementing Chapter 13 of the 1992 Earth Summit's Agenda 21, the blueprint for the sustainable development of mountains.

Sustainable development of mountains will contribute to achieving FAO's goal of alleviating hunger and poverty in the world and ensuring that people throughout the world will have access to the food they need for active, healthy lives.

More than half of humanity - three billion people - depend on mountains for safe, fresh water - to grow food, to produce electricity, to sustain industries and, most importantly, to drink. Millions more depend on mountains for food and employment through activities like farming, fishing and forestry.

Mountains are home to one in eight people and rich repositories of cultural diversity, languages and traditions. Mountains too are host to more biological diversity than most other ecoregions on the planet, including lowland rainforests. Yet as diverse as mountain ecosystems are, and as strong and powerful the image we hold of mountains may be, in reality, mountains are exceedingly fragile. Each day, climate change, pollution, as well as exploitative mining and unsound agriculture practices, take a toll on mountain environments. Mountain people - the guardians of mountain ecosystems - are the most vulnerable to these changes. Already, they are among the world's poorest, hungriest and most marginalized people.

Estimates show there are about 800 million chronically undernourished people in the world. Although mountain people represent about 12 percent of the world's population, research underway at FAO suggests that mountain communities may carry a much larger portion of the burden. The reason for this has much to do with the inaccessibility of mountains, the complexity and fragility of mountain environments, and the extent to which mountain people, particularly women, are often socially, politically and economically marginalized. But there is another reason. Most of the world's armed conflicts are being fought in mountain regions.

One way to resolve conflicts and bring about peace in mountain areas is to encourage sustainable mountain development and mountain-friendly policy and law. All efforts must be built on the wisdom, knowledge and experience of mountain people - as well as being supported by research. At FAO, work on food security in mountains is helping to better understand the nature and extent of poverty and hunger in mountains and to develop more effective programmes.

There is a clear path to sustainable mountain development. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August a global partnership on mountains will be established to implement Chapter 13. Later this year, at the Global Mountain Summit to be held in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), a formal declaration on mountains will be issued. This declaration is being developed with contributions from countries and regions, researchers, women, children, mountain people's organizations, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies dedicated to protecting mountain ecosystems and improving the quality of life in mountain communities.

This proposed side event during the World Food Summit: five years later is a unique opportunity for a wide cross-section of stakeholders - FAO and representatives of governments, regional and country groups and NGOs - to present the special needs and requirements of vulnerable groups in mountain regions around the world, and to discuss the emerging global partnership on mountains that will be established at the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to fulfil the commitments of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21.

1 Austria, Bhutan, Bolivia, Ethiopia, France, Guatemala, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lesotho, Peru, Slovenia and Switzerland.


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FAO, 2002