Focus areas

Why mountains matter

Mountains are storehouses of genetic diversity that help feed the world. Around 20 plants supply 80 per cent of humanity’s food. Six of them – maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, apples and tomatoes – originated in mountain areas. Seven others – wheat, rice, beans, oats, grapes, oranges and rye – found new homes in the mountains and evolved into many different varieties.

Mountains play a central role in collecting and storing the single most precious element for life on earth: fresh water
. The rivers and streams that flow from mountain slopes are living bonds connecting mountain and lowland communities. More than half the world’s population relies on the fresh water that flows from mountains and many different factors can damage or poison this vital source of life. The consequences are felt by everyone.

When mountain forest is cut unsustainably or too much land is cleared for farming, ranching or mining,
the water that normally flows into mountain watersheds washes over barren slopes. The resulting erosion transforms mountain soils, and poses the threat of avalanches, landslides and flooding. As fertile soil and forests are lost, rivers begin to silt up and rare species of plants and animals can face extinction.

This environmental degradation often means increasing poverty and hunger for mountain people
, already amongst the world’s poorest and hungriest. As resources become scarce, conflicts over their use can arise. Many men, women and families have no choice but to migrate to lowland cities. Mountain communities disintegrate and entire cultures and languages disappear.

The growing demand for water, the consequences of global climate change, the growth in tourism, the pressures of industry and agriculture
in a world of increased globalization are just some of the challenges facing the sustainable development of mountain regions.

Search site by focus area:

> Biodiversity

Climate change

Disaster risk management

> Food security



> Green economy

Indigenous peoples 

> Mountain agriculture 

> Mountain products 

> Renewable energy

> Sustainable tourism 

> Water 

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