Bringing sustainability to mountain areas means turning competing interests into a shared vision

Mountains tower over us, yet they’re often overlooked in the field of education. Learning to better manage mountain resources is essential to achieve sustainable development and improve people’s lives.

About one billion people live in mountainous areas around the world but we all depend, in some way, on healthy mountains and their benefits, including water, food, energy, biodiversity and employment. Finding ways to protect and conserve mountain ecosystems while enabling people to improve their livelihoods is one of the keys to achievement of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

Turning what may look like competing interests into a shared vision is essential to successful management of mountain resources. This is where education in sustainability can make a big difference.

1 billion people live in mountain areas © Ingimage

Ghanshyam Pande of India works to promote the sustainable development of mountain communities, mainly in the Himalayan states of India. As programme coordinator of the Central Himalayan Institute for Nature (CHINAR), he is one of 35 students from 25 countries who have been selected out of 400 applications for a course in the Italian Alps on the sustainable management of mountains.

Read also: Why mountain areas are essential for sustainable development

Ipromo, a programme on sustainable mountain development

The two-week international course on sustainable mountain development, IPROMO, is organized every summer by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with the University of Turin and the University of Tuscia in Italy.

Since 2007, some 400 people from different countries have travelled to Italy to attend this unique course, which is designed to strengthen the capacities of professionals from countries which belong to the Mountain Partnership. The Mountain Partnership aims, in part, to protect the vitality of mountains while also improving the social and economic well-being of mountain people, many of whom are among the world’s most vulnerable populations.

While the participants come from different countries, many share similar concerns and challenges, such as climate change, deforestation, mining, unsustainable farming and grazing practices and food insecurity. Also, mountain peoples are often forced to out-migrate as living in mountains is increasingly difficult.

mountain agriculture vietnam
Agriculture has a fundamental role in the mountains for the correct management of the territory, the conservations of biodiversity, contrasting depopulation and in terms of the local economy © Ingimage

Landscape approach for enhancing mountain resilience

This year’s course focuses on a landscape approach for the management of mountain resources. This approach recognizes that mountains are vast, fragile and complex transboundary landscapes and that developing sustainable policies and practices requires an integrated and a systematic look at the different situations, needs and objectives of the people, institutions and sectors that most rely on mountains.

The IPROMO lessons address issues like environmental conservation, water supply, income generation and food security, with modules on specific topics like biodiversity and soils for mountain resilience, water management technologies, disaster risk management and improving communication skills. The course also looks at case studies in forestry-conservation policy from Costa Rica and Mexico and features a field visit to Italian mountain communities.

Like his Himalayan colleague, Gilbert Muvunankiko of Rwanda represents an NGO focused on sustainable mountain communities and has also signed up for this year’s IPROMO course. Back home, he is involved in the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS), which focuses on promoting regional collaborative action through projects and action on the ground.

Work in the Mountains, taken in India by Tatiana Sharapova (Russian Federation). First place Smallholder Families category. Women growing vegetables to sell at the market in Ladakh © CGAP

Involving local communities

The course places particular emphasis on the importance of getting local communities directly involved in managing mountain ecosystems and economies, in close cooperation with the authorities. It also promotes access to both innovation and traditional knowledge, including that of indigenous peoples.

The field visit to Italy‘s Aosta Valley, in cooperation with the Institut Agricole Régional and the Municipality of Gressoney la Trinité, allows participants to see various examples of sustainable management of mountain resources and learn directly from local farmers and entrepreneurs.

With the target date for achievement of the SDGs just over ten years away, mountain-related education is needed more urgently than ever. Pro-mountain ideas, information and technologies which can be taken from the classroom to the mountain range can help to speed progress towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, especially SDG target 15.4 (protection of healthy mountain ecosystems).

Gressoney La-Trinité, Aosta Valley, Italy
Gressoney La-Trinité, Aosta Valley, Italy © Mirco Mion/Unsplash

Education brings people together 

Educational opportunities do more than impart information. They bring people together, helping experts, organizations and communities to build networks and continue sharing knowledge and ideas among themselves, thus increasing their opportunities to protect mountain ecosystems and improve people’s lives.

The support of the governments of Andorra, Italy and Switzerland is crucial for the work of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, and thanks to them, we are building a new partnership to also offer courses in Spanish and possibly in Russian in order to reach a larger group of officers and experts working to sustainably promote mountains.

The op-ed was initially published by IISD 

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