Table of Contents


Diversity of Mountain Area Ecosystems
Importance of African Mountains

Food Security in Mountain Areas

   Food security

Mountain Resource Uses and Food Security

Livestock Production

Crop Production




Hydropower Generation

Mountain Areas and Downstream Food Security

Water for Downstream Food Security
Use of Mountain Resources by Lowland Communities

Fouta Djallon - Water Tower of West Africa

Potentials, Constraints and Vulnerability



Land Use Intensification and Soil Fertility Decline

Soil Erosion

Declining Yield and Rising Population

Towards Enhancing Food Security

Alleviating Production Constraints
Research and Information Sharing Networks

A Research Network

An Information Sharing Network

International Year of Mountains - an Opportunity for Africa's Mountain Regions

Coordination of  IYM Preparations

Communications Support

Mobilizing Country Action

Linkage between the International Year of Ecoturism (IYE) and IYM



1. The mountain areas of Africa are scattered through out the continent with the main masses in Eastern Africa. The well-known mountain ranges include those found to the Northwest of the continent, in Algeria and Morocco, known as the Atlas Mountains, and the Saharan Highlands. In Western Africa, we have the Fouta Djallon and the Mount Nimba, in the Republic of Guinea, the Adamawa Highlands in Nigeria and the island mountains of Cape Verde. In central Africa, Mount Cameroon and Mount Febe can be indicated as well as the mountain areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). In Southern Africa the Cape folded mountains of Drakensberg, the Table Mountains, the Soutpansberg Mountains, Thabana Ntlenyana (Lesotho Mountain). In Eastern Africa, we have the eastern highlands and their mountains, - Mt. Ras Daschan, Abune Yosef, Choke and Guge in Ethiopia, Mount Kenya, Aberdare and Cherangani Hills in Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro and Usambara in Tanzania and Mount Elgon and the Ruwenzori in Uganda. Apart from these, there are other smaller ranges and highlands such as in Rwanda, Burundi and Madagascar, rich with biodiversity and significant cultural heritage.


2. The mountain areas have a lower evapotranspiration rate attributed to lower temperature range and shorter dry season in summer. The mountain environments are therefore superior in terms of favourable conditions for agriculture, herding and water catchments. Moroccan mountain areas in North Africa, have a higher potential than the surrounding lowlands in terms of average annual rainfall, availability of surface and groundwater to local communities and biomass production (Bencherifa, 1990).

3. Equatorial mountains such as Mount Kenya, Kilimanjaro, Cameroon, and Fouta Djallon have more favourable plant production environment between 920 m and 3000-3500 m. This altitudinal belt support a highly diverse mountane woodlands and forests. Above the treeline is the sub-alpine (heath and moorland belt) dominated by Philippia, Anthospermum, Artemisia and Stoebe, the alpine zone made up of the alpine tussock dominated by Helichrysum and the alpine desert dominated by bare rock and ice.

4. The southern Africa regional mountains of Drakensberg, Chimanimani, Inyanga, Mulanje, Thabana Ntlenyana (Lesotho Highlands) have cool, wet and misty climate making them high water yielding catchments. Afro-sub-alphine and Afro-alphine vegetation belts occurs above 2000-2200 m.a.s.l. and sub-alphine and alpine grassland and heath communities form the climax vegetation of these ecologically sensitive areas. Climatic hazards such as more than five months of frost, episodic snowfall and severe storms, hamper permanent human occupation which is nevertheless expanding.

5. The diversity of mountain areas is influenced by:


6. Mountains in tropical and sub-tropical regions have more favourable environmental conditions and greater resource potential than the surrounding lowlands. Demographic maps of countries in the tropics in general, show that human settlement in the rural areas is often highly concentrated in mountain influenced areas, where living conditions are relatively more favourable and soils are relatively fertile. In 1986, Ethiopian mountains areas accounted for 95% of regularly cropped land, and that they were the base for 90% of the countries economic activities and supported 88% of the 42 million inhabitants and 67% of the Ethiopia's 70 million livestock population. According to 1994 population estimates, mountain areas supported 81, 64 and 37% of the population in Ethiopia, Kenya and Madagascar respectively. Mountain areas also have a high environmental and socio-economic importance.

7. Environmental importance include:

8. Socio-economic importance include:



9. For the purpose of this paper food security encompasses ability to meet food and other household requirement by means of producing them locally or selling mountain products and services and thereby getting money to purchase the food and other household requirements. The analysis of food security in mountain and surrounding lowland areas is therefore assessed from the point of view of the total mountain products and services from which mountain and lowland communities derive their livelihoods.


10. Historically, different communities have occupied different ecological niches giving rise to distinctive cultures and ways of life (high mountain communities of hunters and gatherers; agropastoralists in the mountain slopes and highland areas; agropastoralists in the foot slopes and surrounding highlands; nomadic pastoralists in the highlands and lowlands). These communities were largely self-sufficient depending to a limited degree on external trade. The opening up of communication, population increases and resources scarcity has led to migration and changes in ways of life. Consequently, most of the mountain communities derive their livelihoods directly or indirectly from mountain goods and services. Food security of mountain communities is therefore linked to the food and incomes generated from livestock production, crop production, forestry, tourism and hydropower generation.


11. Livestock production is a major contributor to food security of mountain communities. In the Ethiopian highlands, approximately 50 million livestock are reared in mountain areas. Livestock contributes to food security through sale of livestock products (meat, milk and leather) and in provision of manure that enhances soil fertility. Grazing in sub-alpine and alpine rasslands of Lesotho is increasing mainly due to the high population pressure in the highland plateau. This increase signifies the communities dependency on the sub-alpine and alpine areas for enhancing their food security.


12. Crop production accounts for over 80% of the food needs in areas suitable for agricultural production, particularly the highlands of eastern and southern Africa. Tea, coffee, ananas, maize, barley, wheat, tef, rice, cassava, pyrethrum, horticulture are the major crops grown in the quatorial mountain areas. Even with the small farm holdings (<2 hectare per household) most families are able to meet their household requirements most of the times.


13. Fisheries particularly in the upper reaches of mountain streams is not widely practiced but has a considerable potential for enhancing food security. In the western slopes of mount Kenya, fresh water from mountain springs at favourable temperature is being used for trout fish production.


14. Fuelwood and charcoal: Due to more favourable climate, mountain area in the tropics have a higher biomass production creating a more suitable environment for vegetation production. Consequently, these areas are important sources of fuelwood and charcoal which accounts for 50-80 per cent of all wood used. In many places, fuelwood collection, while not completely destroying the forests and woodlands, significantly impoverishes them and alters the habitat by the selective removal of preferred species. However, it is charcoal making that is a major cause of forest resources degradation.

15. Crop production during tree establishment period: "Slash-and-burn" farming which includes a diverse collection of farming systems from long fallow shifting cultivation to short fallow shifting cultivation is practiced by some of the poorest and marginalized groups. In times of low population density and land abundance, slash-and-burn farming has been an environmentally sustainable and economically sound alternative for growing food crops on fragile tropical soils. Typically, they cultivate less than two hectares in a year and their important crops are corn, beans, cassava, plantains, and upland rice, depending on the region. Secondary crops include coffee, cacao, citrus and other fruits, vegetables, and a few head of livestock. However, as populations have grown and land has become scarce, farming has become more intensive, making it unsustainable with diminishing economic returns. Agroforestry techniques have become a viable alternative in many regions.

16. Grazing in forest land: Forests have traditionally been used as dry season grazing land. However, with increasing human and livestock population, and degradation of traditional grazing areas pressure on dry season grazing areas is increasing even during the wet periods. Where the herd populations exceed the allowable grazing capacity of the forests, the forest is degraded in terms of the specie composition and quality of the ecosystem.


17. Vast areas have been set aside as national parks or game reserves in mountain areas of Africa for their scenic beauty or for the protection of the endangered fauna and flora. These areas are important destination for tourists particularly in Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda. These areas also contribute to food security through employment opportunities and in some case through programme aimed at revenue sharing between the park agencies and the communities.


18. High quantities of water flowing from the mountain areas and favourable gradient make it possible to develop small hydropower plants. This potential has not been fully utilized but it present opportunities for increasing local revenue which will ultimately contribute to enhancing food security.



19. Water from mountain areas is the lifeline for lowland communities. Extensive irrigation projects benefit from water catchments in mountain areas. Irrigation projects in Sudan and Egypt are examples of the importance of mountain water catchments for the lowland communities.


20. In some mountain areas, lowland communities utilize the mountain areas as dry season grazing areas. Small mountain areas, such as Mount Marsabit and Mount Kulal in Northern Kenya lowlands are particularly useful for this purpose.


21. The Fouta Djallon Highlands are located in the central part of the Republic of Guinea, but the massif also extends into the territories of Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The Highlands are made up of a set of mountainous ecosystems with an elevation ranging from 500 to 1300m. The massif is characterised by a great variety of landscapes and the existence of multifarious ecosystems. The Highlands represent therefore a very important habitat with biological diversity.

22. The Fouta Djallon Highlands are of important regional significance in their capacity as the source area for many of the major rivers in West Africa. The region is watered by a dense river system (over 8000 sources), including six rivers which rank among the most important shared rivers in the sub-region: the Niger, Senegal, Gambia, Kaba, Kolenté, and Koliba. These watercourses make the bulk of the international waters in the sub-region with over 70% of the waters from these rivers originating in the Fouta Djallon Highlands.

23. The Highlands are one of the most densely populated areas in West Africa. Over 70 per cent of this population live in rural areas and the essential part of their livelihoods is derived from agriculture and animal husbandry. The agricultural system is characterised by agropastoralism, shifting cultivation and slash and burn cultivation.

24. Due to the high demographic pressure in the Highlands, degradation of watersheds, widespread poverty and the lack of alternative livelihoods, traditional land use practices have become unsustainable. The environment of the Fouta Djallon Highlands is under increasing threat from mounting population pressure and unsustainable land use practices. Without an appropriate intervention, the degradation of the `water tower' of West Africa will continue to have serious repercussions on the downstream countries of the sub-region. The threats to the ecosystem comprise:



25. Food security can be enhanced by increased agricultural production through horizontal expansion and vertical expansion. In most areas, all the land suitable for agricultural productions is currently used for agriculture or is and other competing uses. Under this circumstances, the potential for horizontal expansion is limited. However, in most areas the agriculture production is less than 40% of the potential. Grosjean and Messerli, 1990 reported that mountain areas of Africa under the current conditions of low input levels, rainfed agriculture and susbsistence production, loses 73% (55% loss attributed to fallow requirements and 18% to irreversible land degradation) of the climatically conditioned crop production due to soil constraints.



26. Increases in human population and consumption per capita calls for increased agricultural production. Increases can be achieved through horizontal expansion (open up more land for crop production) or vertical expansion (increasing productivity per unit land through intensification). In most cases where land is available for horizontal expansion, this is the preferred option as it makes more land available and it is also cheaper. For resource poor farmers, vertical expansion (intensification) is difficult to achieve due to the high input requirements. Liberarization of the markets has worked against intensification due to the high cost of inputs.

27. Land use intensification puts heavy pressure on the soil resources particularly in areas with bimodal rainfall where two crops can be grown per year. Two crops per year and soil and water conservation (by increasing supply of soil moisture) increases the potential for mining of the remaining soil nutrients by crops. The problem is exacerbated by low level of nutrient replenishment due to unaffordability of chemical fertilizers and the high labor requirements of nutrient replenishment using organic fertilizers.


28. Hurni, 1990 reported that favourable climatic and ecological conditions of the Ethiopia mountain areas were the basis for the early development of agricultural systems. Gradually agriculture expanded from the gently sloping land onto the steeper slopes as forests were cleared for crop production. Cultivation of these fragile ecosystem has gradually destroyed the soil resources and the degradation processes continous to this day in some areas.

29. High soil erosion rates have been reported in various parts of African mountains. In a country assessment of soil erosion, Hurni reported that Ethiopia was loosing soil at an average of 12 t ha-1 year-1 and rates for different land cover as shown in


30. Declining land productivity associated with (a) soil degradation - the loss of the capacity of the soil to produce vegetation as a result of soil erosion, nutrient depletion, soil pollution by pesticides, nutrients and acid rain, soil compaction and crust formation (b) water resources degradation (depletion of groundwater resources, decline in water quality, sedimentation of reservoirs, increased runoff and flash floods, flooding); (c) plant resources degradation (reduced biodiversity, reduced biomass and nutritive value, reduced plant cover and growth, plant diseases); and (d) animal resources degradation (overstocking, malnutrition, animal diseases, loss of certain species, etc).

31. Socio-economic challenges such as (a) prevalent poverty, marginalised and insecure livelihood systems; (b) natural resource use conflicts; (c) socio-economic and socio-cultural diversities and disparities endangering conflict resolution and increasing power divide; (d) increasing population pressures in some areas and low population densities and high transaction costs in more remote areas; (e) low land productivity due to environmental constrains (low rainfall, low temperature, soils of low fertility), man-induced soil degradation and low level of external inputs (fertilizers and crop protection chemicals) and poor crop management; (f) low farm gate prices due to long distance to markets, poor transport infrastructure, high transportation costs and exploitation by middlemen and traders ; (g) non-optimal productivity levels and inappropriate land use systems; and inequitable allocation and access to natural resources.

32. Food insecurity in mountain and highland area is attributed to population increases, land productivity decline, use of land for cash crop and poor market price of farm produce. When faced with food insecurity, the land users with few alternatives available to them, look to the forests and wetland as a short-term solution to their economic problems. This is further compounded by the following constraints:



33. Food production in African remains considerably low by international standards. To achieve this we need to address the following constraints:


34. Research and information sharing network present new opportunities for alleviating the constraints and taking advantages of opportunities identified above. It is hoped that the International Year of Mountains will play a greater role in promoting initiatives in this respect.


35. A good example of an applied research network is African Highlands Initiative, an applied research programme using an eco-regional approach. The overall goal of African Highland Initiative is to help communities in the densely populated and intensely cultivated highlands of eastern and central Africa combat poverty resulting from land degradation by enhancing knowledge and dissemination of sustainable systems of agricultural production and natural resources management. It seeks to assist farmers maintain reasonable levels of land productivity using affordable and local available inputs and to facilitate a community based approach to conserving natural resources.


36. Mountain Forum Africa is a pan-Africa network dedicated to sharing information on sustainable mountain area development. It is based on the premise that there exists an enormous wealth of information that is not widely disseminated and that mountain forum members are willing and able to share their knowledge and experiences.


37. The decision of the United Nations General Assembly to observe 2002 as the International Year of Mountains (IYM) has created new opportunities for the mountain region of Africa. Under the overall goal of ensuring the well-being of mountain populations by promoting sustainable development of mountain regions, IYM objectives are to:


38. FAO was invited to be the lead agency for the IYM and is currently working to prepare and coordinate observance of the Year. An IYM coordination unit has been established in the Forestry Department at FAO headquarters. Additional staffing has been procured, mainly through extra-budgetary resources, to cover the various responsibilities related to this work.


39. Communication tools to support and guide national participation, including information and promotional packages, have been developed and are being disseminated to a wide variety of partners, including IYM national committees. The IYM coordination unit at FAO has launched the official IYM logo and made it available for public use, while the dedicated IYM web site has undergone further development and is currently available in English, French and Spanish. Cooperation is being sought through bilateral arrangements to expand the language coverage. An official slogan for the IYM, "We are all mountain people", is also now available to the public.

40. As one of the most important objectives of the IYM will be to raise awareness on mountain issues, the IYM coordination unit has prepared its communications plan. The plan defines the overall strategy and approach to raising awareness, promoting and mobilizing action on the IYM. It indicates key audiences, main messages, means and opportunities to inform through a comprehensive public awareness campaign. It is being made available to a wide variety of potential users, including all national committees.


41. The main focus of attention and support for IYM observance is at country level. Although many global and regional mountain events are planned for 2002, awareness raising and mobilising interested stakeholders at national level are viewed as the key to long term success of the IYM, particularly in terms of ensuring sustained action toward development and conservation in mountain regions. By October 2001, 38 countries had established or were in the process of establishing a National Committee responsible for the preparatory activities and celebration of the IYM; 53 countries had established a focal point for the IYM; so far in Africa, Benin, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea Conakry, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Swaziland, Tunisia and Uganda, have established national committees. Through extra-budgetary resources, FAO is able to provide modest financial support ($5,000) to each interested country to assist with national observance efforts.


42. In view of the coinciding observance in 2002 of the International Year of Mountains and the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE), (website:, member countries of the Committee on Forestry, who met in March 2001, urged FAO to collaborate with organizers of the IYE to ensure that both Years are fully synchronised. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) and UNEP are co-lead agencies for the IYE. Since a large portion of tourist activities occurs in mountain areas, simultaneous observance of both international years in 2002 provides an important opportunity to jointly build awareness and new synergies. A World Summit on Ecotourism will be held in Quebec, Canada in May 2002.