The mountain is coming to you
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CTA. 2001. The mountain is coming to you. Spore 96. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46345
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore96.pdf
We all need mountains, and should stand back and treat them with the utmost respect. Welcome to 2002, the Year of the Mountain.Most people have a complex relationship with mountains. Even if you have never seen one in the flesh, as it were, they...
We all need mountains, and should stand back and treat them with the utmost respect. Welcome to 2002, the Year of the Mountain. Most people have a complex relationship with mountains. Even if you have never seen one in the flesh, as it were, they probably conjure up feelings of both awe and reassurance in you. Rightly so. They tower above us, strong and solid in our minds and eyes, yet are as fragile as an eggshell. They seem to entice us, drawing out the explorer in us, prompting one climber to explain why he wanted to reach the world s highest peak, Everest, with the all-embracing 'Because it s there.' They may fall in pieces on top of us if we go too close, they may release their waters in floods that bring both fear and fertility to the people on the plain, they may harbour and host essential species. When it is hot and humid on the plain, those of us with the time and the means often retreat to the hills. When we can, we settle there, to be above the noise, or safe from the threats of unknown animals and unfriendly tribes and we often place our capital cities on mountains. From the palace on the peak of Antananarivo in Madagascar, now lost perhaps to history, to the Redhills of Jamaica s Kingston, or the micro-cities of the Hopi nation on theflattops of Arizonian summits, we seek refuge in mountains. There are many definitions of a mountain. According to South African sources, a mountain is an area of above 425 metres of elevation, but the degree of the slope some say more than 10% counts too. Mountains and highlands occupy an important part in the agricultural scenario and the ecology of a significant number of ACP States. In the greater Caribbean area, Jamaica s famed Blue Mountains are host to a rich biodiversity, the nation s water supply and a controlled small number of farmers. To the east, the island of Hispanola is home to both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, with the latter s massive problems of poverty-driven, uncontrolled erosion. In the Pacific, Papua New Guinea is seriously mountainous, with peaks reaching with more than 5000 m; more than 2 million people live in PNG s highlands. In Africa, as well as the isolated peaks of West and Central Africa such as in Cameroon, there are the complex mountain areas of eastern Africa, highlighted in Kenya and Ethiopia s highlands, and the mountain ranges of southern Africa, from Angola and Namibia across to Lesotho. South Africa is 20% highlands and mountains. In the Indian Ocean, there are mountains of note in Mauritius and the Comoros; Madagascar s inland chain hosts a unique and collapsing biodiversity. One-tenth of Africa s surface area is mountainous, and home to about 110 million people, with a range of agricultural problems specific to that geography. A further 160 million people in Africa depend on mountains for their water supply. Go till it on the mountain The agriculture of the mountain is a complex one, even if it is largely subsistence. Sometimes in Africa in particular the mountain has provided a more reliable and fertile (humid!) livelihood than some dry lowlands, and agriculture has taken root. Complicated systems of cultivation and water catchment and distribution accompany refined methods of pasture management and livestock logistics. The similarities of many agricultural practices across different mountain regions in the world is striking. The transhumance ceremonies of moving livestock to summer mountain pastures in the Causses of southern France take place in an environment of terraced valleys and tiny plots packed with fruit trees and onion plants which is reminiscent of the Ethiopian highlands, Peru s Golden valley, the Hunza valley in Asia s Hindu Kush and the highland rice fields of Madagascar. Because of their relative isolation, mountain communities are often particularly rich and retentive of their culture, and agricultural practices. Where a rural lowland dweller has nothing but an emotional tug to stop him leaving his village for the promises and disappointments of city life, a mountain farmer will think a hundred times before going down the slope to the lowlands. Instead s/he will try to go up, cutting more trees for firewood, terracing more slopes in defiance of gravity. The push upwards is driven largely by the upward surge of population growth. Yet one day, as has been happening for several decades at sometimes alarming rates, the mountain will not tolerate such intense handling. The soils will erode, causing horrific problems of silting and flooding on the over-populated and fertile lowland plains. Entire livelihoods, communities, will be literally washed away. When man goes to the mountain The need then is to modulate the impact of man on mountains, a process currently called Mountain development . This highly selective strategy can have three major objectives. Firstly, to provide a sound, sustainable livelihood to a limited population, whether in agriculture or other activities such as handicrafts or ecotourism. Secondly, to prevent economic and environmental migration to seemingly more hospitable climates below and, thirdly, to protect, preserve and help to strengthen the mountain ecology. The maintenance of a sound ecosystem upstream can mitigate disaster downstream. It also provides a habitat for the species which contribute to biodiversity and it allows for inter-mountain 'eco-friendly' corridors along which species can migrate as their home ecozones alter under the influence of climate change. Finally, mountain forests can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus help to reduce the global warming effects of so-called greenhouse gases. In that special way of we humans, where we assign tasks to other parts of nature as if they were there merely to serve the human race, we call these forests carbon sinks . Not, though, that it is all give and no take: mountains are as much affected by the continuous process of climate change as anywhere else. In many areas, mountains are getting warmer the famous snow-cap on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is predicted to disappear within fifteen years. It is on Kilimanjaro s foothills that the burgeoning African Mountains Association is establishing itself as a centre to promote more mountain-friendly development practice. Because they are there Mountains provide a decent home to a relatively small numbers of rural people, and other species. They have their role to play, agriculturally speaking, in food security, genetic diversity, and income generation. That status should be maintained therefore there should be neither policies which lead to total depopulation, because that places excessive pressure on other areas, nor policies of deliberate settlement, because the mountain is too fragile and quickly hostile for more people. In the eyes of a macro-policy maker, the standard toolkit for rural development can apply, but it will not suffice. Participation, empowerment, community development, low-scale credit and savings schemes, stakeholder dialogues all of these processes can thrive even more than in the lowlands, because social cohesion, and failing that, social control, tend to be much stronger in mountain communities. However, additional attention has to be paid to the aspects of isolation and remoteness, in particular to infrastructure. For produce and livestock to reach external markets, and inputs to be imported, the routes are longer, more arduous and more expensive. The infamous last mile in telecommunications and this applies to all forms of communications is always going to be tougher, longer and dearer in the mountains. That said, current advances in satellite communication are fast removing remoteness in terms of access to information. This can have its benefits in, for example, agricultural practice and market information, although there may be an erosion of local indigenous knowledge and cultural values. Like all minorities, the important thing is to get noticed, listened to and responded to fairly. The people and other species of the mountain are perhaps the furthest away from the mindset of the development planner and policy maker, but they should not be forgotten. Taking care of their particular needs will, literally and figuratively, have positive consequences downstream. Because they are there. [caption to illustrations] There are limits to what mountains can take, and what they can give, bountiful as they are For further information: Year of the Mountain 2002 secretariat. Website:www.mountains2002.org The mountain forum. Website: www.mtnforum.org African Mountains Association (AMA) c/o Department of Agricultural Engineering, University of Nairobi, PO Box 30197, Nairobi, Kenya Email: firstname.lastname@example.org [summary points] Mountain development requires a sensitive balance between human and other natural interests: recognition of the limits of human settlement adaption of traditions to further reduce erosion and loss of vegetation promotion of economic incentives and communications facilities recognition by policy-makers