One in 12 people -- around 700 million individuals -- live in mountain regions.
Mountain communities are among the poorest and most affected by hunger in
the world. Some 245 million mountain people live in rural areas in developing
and transition countries and are threatened by food insecurity, recent FAO research
The characteristics of high-altitude environments and of
the communities that call them home mean that development in highland areas
requires a different approach -- mountain-specific strategies, based on mountain-specific
research and knowledge.
In the past, however, governments have tended
to concentrate development planning and service provision in lowland areas, traditionally
centres for national economic production, leaving poverty and development issues
in mountain regions unaddressed.
After the adoption of chapter 13 of
Agenda 21, Managing fragile ecosystems: sustainable mountain development,
at 1992's UN Earth Summit, awareness of the importance of mountain ecosystems
and communities increased.
This trend has been reinforced by the designation
of 2002 as International Year of Mountains, and by FAO's ongoing collaboration
with partner organizations to shape an International Mountain Partnership.
Consequently, the need to not only protect highland environments but also
ensure the economic and social well-being of mountain communities is widely recognized.
However, much remains to be done in terms of translating that growing awareness
of highland development needs into mountain-specific laws and policies, FAO has
Needed: mountain-specific laws
in the field shows that when mountain communities have a sense of at least partial
ownership or control over local natural resources they are more inclined to help
For example, in Nepal about 50 years ago, local communities
had little or no incentive to protect state-owned mountain forests. A policy shift
in the last two decades devolved management and user rights to local communities,
which are currently making profitable investments in forests and benefiting from
wood and non-wood forest products. Consequently, communities became increasingly
interested in and committed to sustainably managing their forests.
Despite the benefits of doing so, however, most countries don't have the
mountain-specific policies or laws that would enable mountain people to more effectively
manage mountain ecosystems, observes Douglas McGuire, coordinator of FAO's work
According to a new FAO report, "mountains have only
recently begun to attract the attention of political decision-makers and economic
planners. Mountain law is, thus, still in its infancy: only a few mountain-specific
legal instruments, national and international, are currently in place.
Still, a few countries -- France, Georgia, Italy, Switzerland and Ukraine are
examples -- have enacted legal instruments focusing specifically on mountain areas,
and other countries are in the process of developing similar legislation.
"These converging efforts seem to signal an emerging trend towards a
progressive increase in mountain law-making in the years to come," notes
the FAO report.
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 570 53168