31. The Conference considered the key issues and opportunities related to sustainable mountain development, noting the timeliness and relevance of the topic in light of 2002 having been designated the International Year of Mountains.2 The Conference acknowledged the tremendous importance of mountains in providing and sustaining supplies of fresh water, hydropower, biological diversity, agricultural and forestry products, minerals, and sites for recreation and tourism. At the same time, the great fragility of mountain areas was noted, along with the major challenges faced by mountain dwellers.
32. The delegates reviewed the wide range of environmental, economic, social and cultural issues confronting mountain regions. The vulnerabilities of mountain ecosystems, mountain cultures, and women and children in upland areas were highlighted. Delegates also acknowledged the ill-preparedness of most mountain people to compete effectively in open economies. The prevalence of food insecurity and poor nutrition among mountain dwellers was noted.
33. The Conference identified several opportunities for supporting and enhancing sustainable mountain development. These included the development of niche products and services where mountain communities have competitive advantage; improving marketing; enhancing environmental protection; strengthening legislative and policy mechanisms; accelerating the effective decentralisation and devolution of natural resources management; enhancing information dissemination; and expanding trans-boundary cooperation.
34. The Conference emphasised the need to adhere to the paramount principle of safeguarding mountain ecosystems and protecting the environment in all aspects of mountain development. The Conference urged governments and communities to establish and strengthen policies and strategies for protecting mountain forests, water, soil and biodiversity resources. Toward this objective, the Conference encouraged member countries to implement holistic, participatory, integrated watershed management programs that address the needs of local people and protect and enhance natural resources.
35. The Conference urged member countries and international organizations to collaborate in addressing forest fires, illegal and reckless logging, and forest encroachment.
36. Delegates stressed the need for governments to create an enabling economic climate conducive to growth and development in upland areas, coupled with targeted support to meet the unique needs of mountain people. The Conference recommended that member countries, with assistance from FAO and other partners, initiate specific studies to determine optimal and efficient systems for marketing mountain products and services in competitive markets. As a complement to such research, the Conference requested FAO to work with member countries to assess the likely positive and negative impacts of exposing mountain communities to more open economies.
37. Delegates recognised that some mountain products and services were likely to enjoy competitive advantages vis-à-vis those from the lowlands. The Conference recommended that member countries work with FAO and partner organizations to identify products and niches that command competitive and comparative advantages and strengthen the production capabilities for those which appear most promising.
38. Noting the prevalence of food insecurity and poor nutrition in mountain areas, the Conference urged member countries and FAO to give increased attention to enhancing food security in mountainous regions. It particularly requested FAO to strengthen its community nutrition programs in mountain areas.
39. Tourism, especially ecotourism, was recognised by the delegates as an area of growing importance for generating income and livelihoods in mountain areas, but which posed certain risks to fragile mountain ecosystems if developed carelessly. The Conference recommended that FAO, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC) and other international organizations increase their support for research, development, promotion and capacity building aimed at developing ecotourism, consistent with sound environmental, social and livelihood objectives.
40. Delegates emphasised that sustainable mountain development was greatly hindered by the isolation and remoteness of mountain communities. The Conference called on member governments to give high priority to establishing and improving transport, energy and communication links and services to mountain communities. FAO was requested to support improved networking and effective dissemination of development-related information to mountain areas, via modern as well as traditional mechanisms, in collaboration with partner organizations and governments.
41. The Conference applauded the progress of some countries in the region in decentralising and devolving natural resources management responsibilities and benefits to local communities and organizations. However, it also recognised the risks of decentralisation and devolution if local authorities and communities are unprepared for new management responsibilities. The Conference recommended that FAO identify and support effective approaches for decentralisation and devolution of natural resources management, assist governments and local communities in strengthening capacities for local resources management and help clarify associated rights and obligations.
42. Delegates noted the need to expand livelihood opportunities in mountain areas beyond traditional agriculture. The Conference encouraged governments to support viable alternative income and employment opportunities in mountain regions, including innovative new options such as out-sourcing of tasks via modern electronic systems.
43. The Conference recognised that some mountain areas and mountain-dwelling people are severely disadvantaged, with few, if any, comparative or competitive advantages at their disposal. The Conference recommended that, under such circumstances, governments and national and local non-governmental organizations provide targeted “safety nets” and social programs to reduce hunger, increase employment and enhance self-worth of vulnerable groups, especially women and children.