Mountains are home to one tenth of the world’s population, and cover one fifth of the world’s land mass. To most
of us, mountain regions offer landscapes of spectacular scenic beauty – but what we don’t see are the lives and struggles of the people who live in the mountains, many of whom are poor and marginalized. Going by the global average, one in eight persons is food insecure, but in rural mountain areas this ratio is one out in two. This means that around 300 million mountain people are food insecure, with half of them suffering from chronic hunger. FAO has been providing global leadership on sustainable mountain development for decades, including overseeing the implementation of the mountain-related chapter of Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development of the 1992 UN Earth Summit, and the International Year of Mountains in 2002. While mountain agriculture has made some headway, identifying innovative responsive solutions that target mountains directly in relation to Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger – remains a work-in-progress.
This publication – led by FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and partners from national governments, national agriculture institutes, universities, international organizations and international research institutes – aims at raising awareness of the issues encountered by mountain farmers in Asia, and outline how mountain agriculture could better contribute to food security and better nutrition in Asia. The objectives of this publication are to
(1) demonstrate constraints, gaps and opportunities in mountain agriculture to tap underutilized areas and resources for Zero Hunger and poverty reduction, (2) identify possible entry points and policy recommendations to develop sustainable mountain agriculture and strengthen food security and nutrition governance, and (3) promote knowledge sharing and exchange of good experience and practices related to mountain agriculture development for Zero Hunger.
Why does mountain agriculture deserve special attention in a Zero Hunger context? Firstly, because hunger remains common in many mountainous areas. While on a global scale, food insecurity has tended to go down, mountain dwellers have fared worse than people living in plains. Secondly, because mountains cover a large part of the world, especially in Asia: the continent hosts more than one-third of the world’s mountains. Many Asian countries are dominated by mountains: for instance, nearly the entire land area in Bhutan is mountainous, and Lao PDR has
89 percent of its land area classified as mountainous or upland – farmers have no option but to derive their livelihoods from mounting agriculture. Thirdly, mountain agriculture can produce a large variety of nutritious foods not normally available from large-scale agriculture practised in the plains. Strengthening mountain agriculture must therefore be set as a priority for achieving Zero Hunger.
But how can mountain agriculture be effectively developed to achieve Zero Hunger? Mountain agriculture faces
a number of constraints including inaccessibility, shorter and more pronounced agricultural seasons, ecological fragility, limited infrastructure, and distant markets. Yet, mountains contain more diversity than plain regions: their varied landscapes and the changes in altitude have created a multitude of agro-ecological zones. The genetic variety of agricultural crops and farm animals contained in these zones has the potential to provide diversified and nutritious food for all. The potential of mountain agriculture lies in mountain specialty products (e.g. Future Smart Foods: neglected and underutilized species that are nutritionally dense, climate resilient, economically viable, and locally available or adaptable), off-season products as well as agrotourism.
Conventional approaches in mountain agriculture have not been able to reduce hunger and malnutrition.
The transition to food systems that are nutrition-sensitive, climate-smart and sustainable requires government leadership to reinforce intersectoral efforts and acknowledge the wealth and diversity of mountain agriculture.
This publication provides a clear message to policymakers, researchers and practitioners: we must include mountain agriculture in our agendas when tackling hunger and malnutrition, poverty alleviation, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and climate change adaptation. We have to work together in our commitment to include mountain agriculture and “leave no-one behind” on the road towards achieving the Zero Hunger goal.