As a UN agency charged with strengthening agriculture, improving nutrition and alleviating hunger, FAO has a long history of working in sustainable mountain development.

The Organization was tasked with overseeing implementation of the mountain-related chapter of Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development that came out of the 1992 UN Earth Summit. And when 2002 was designated as International Year of Mountains, FAO was selected to oversee the Year.

More recently, the Organization has been suggested as the logical place to situate the Secretariat of the Mountain Partnership, a collaborative effort that now brings 40 countries, 15 intergovernmental organizations and 38 other players together to pool resources, share knowledge and coordinate efforts related to development and conservation in mountain areas.

This past October, at the first global meeting of the Partnership in Merano, Italy, delegates endorsed this plan. Italy and Switzerland are already providing financial support to FAO for an interim arrangement pending formal establishment of the Secretariat.

"In this capacity, FAO will provide crucial support, particularly in the areas of information and communications, to ensure that members needs are met and that the Partnership is able to deliver on its promise to be a more effective collaborative mechanism for action in mountain areas" says Douglas McGuire, head of the Mountain Group at FAO.

"We will play a key role in developing partnership initiatives related to specific issues and areas, and will also act as an honest broker to identify resources and expertise and channel requests for assistance to the right places," he adds.

Beyond these efforts, FAO carries out regular programme work related to mountain areas on a number of fronts, including:

  • technical cooperation projects that provide funding and expert advice in mountain areas ranging from Bolivia to Kazakhstan. FAO's Special Programme for Food Security is also helping high-altitude low-income food-deficit countries;

  • deepening our understanding of mountain ecosystems – and of the needs of the often-vulnerable communities that live there – through research, studies and tools like FAO's Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems;

  • playing a leadership role in diverse international efforts to establish cooperative mechanisms to promote sustainable development and poverty alleviation in the world's mountain zones;

  • developing technical guidelines and educational materials on issues such as watershed management that can be used to apply sustainable development practices in highland areas;

  • conducting in-depth reviews of mountain-related laws, policies and strategies to help countries avoid mistakes and implement successful mountain initiatives.

December 2003

George Kourous
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 570 53168