ADELBODEN, (SWITZERLAND) 20 June 2002 -- The international community should pay more attention to the plight of millions of people in mountain areas, according to the final declaration of a four-day international conference, which ended today.

Mountain people are often exposed to poverty, hunger, social and political marginalization and conflicts, according to the Adelboden Declaration, adopted by 200 representatives of mountain people, governments, international organizations and civil society groups from about 50 countries. FAO estimates that about 770 million people, or 12 percent of the world's population, live in mountain areas.

The International Conference on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development in Mountain Regions was organized by the Swiss Federal Office of Agriculture in close collaboration with FAO.

Because globalization has often had negative effects on mountain areas, the Declaration calls for the removal of market distortions.

The Declaration states that mountain people should have better access to markets and financial services and should receive fair compensation for environmental and other goods and services.

These regions require special attention because mountain ecosystems are exceedingly fragile, mountain communities are geographically isolated and mountain people face difficult climatic conditions, making production, marketing and development more difficult, according to the Declaration.

Conference participants pointed to the key role of agriculture in the development of mountain areas and emphasized the need for more economic diversification.

To improve living conditions in mountain areas, the Declaration called for recognition of the rights of local communities, indigenous and tribal people and vulnerable groups based on their knowledge, natural resources and technologies, property and access to land.
According to the Declaration, people in mountain areas should have access to food, clean water and basic services such as education, health, sanitation, housing and energy. The legal status and the rights of women should be respected.

Conference participants also called for the promotion of all forms of sustainable farming practices in mountain countries and said that efforts should focused on combating deforestation, soil erosion and land degradation, loss of biodiversity, disruption of water flows and retreat of glaciers. If illegal crops are eradicated, compensation should be considered.

The results of the conference will be presented at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg 26 August to 4 September 2002, and at the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit to be held in Kyrgyzstan in October 2002.


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FAO is task manager for chapters 13 (mountains) and 14 (sustainable agriculture and rural development) of Agenda 21 and the lead United Nations agency for the International Year of Mountains.

Some key facts on mountain areas:

- Around 20 percent of South Asia consists of highland and mountain zones suffering moderate to severe levels of poverty and having low potential for agricultural growth and poverty reduction.

- More than 25 percent of the East Asia and Pacific region is categorized as uplands and highlands with extensive poverty.

- Latin America's hillside agricultural ecosystems sustain an estimated 10 million small farmers, most of whom live in marginalized communities. About half of these ecosystems show signs of serious environmental degradation resulting from deforestation, over-grazing and harmful agricultural practices.

- Over 60 percent of the hillsides in Central America are subject to severe water erosion caused by agriculture.