With mountains providing freshwater to half the world's population mainly thanks to the water and soil management practiced by millions of mountain farmers, the United Nations today called for increased resources and secure land tenure for this crucial sector.
“Raising the profile of mountain farmers and supporting them through an enabling policy environment will benefit both mountain people as well as populations living in lowlands that benefit from their products and services," UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Assistant Director-General for Forests Eduardo Rojas-Briales said in Rome in launching a new report to mark International Mountain Day.
Around 40 per cent of mountain populations in developing and transition countries - about 300 million people - are food insecure, with half of them suffering from chronic hunger, according the report, Mountain Farming is Family Farming, which cites secure land tenure, improved access to credit, empowering women, and public investment in education, health, transport and research as requirements to promote sustainable family farming in mountain regions.
"The report comes out at a time as the post-2015 development agenda is being discussed," Mr. Rojas-Briales said. "We need to ensure that issues related to sustainable mountain development are adequately reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda.”
Policies for mountain family farming should promote regional centres and small towns, which provide alternative employment opportunities in the artisanal, industrial and service sectors, stimulate the local economy and reduce migration, according to the report.
Sustainable mountain family farming produces ecosystem services that are vital for lowland areas for which farmers should be compensated. Such services include sound watershed management for the provision of freshwater, conservation of biodiversity and attractive cultural landscapes for tourism and recreation.
Today, family farming in mountain regions is undergoing rapid transformation, due to population growth, economic globalization, the spread of urban lifestyles and the migration of men and youth to urban areas. It results in increased workloads for women, higher pressure on local resources and the increased vulnerability of mountain farmers to global changes.
At the same time, these changes can also provide opportunities for local development. For example, mountain people can diversify their income by engaging in non-farm activities such as tourism and the marketing of local handicrafts.
"The International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) 2014 presents an opportunity to focus attention on the merits and challenges of family farming in mountain areas," said Rosalaura Romeo, FAO Programme Officer at Forestry Department. "In mountain areas, family farming has for centuries contributed to sustainable development, thanks to its small-scale character and low carbon footprint."