Mountains that matter

  • 14/07/2001
  • FAO

In a move representing an important step to focus on the need for sustainable use of hilly regions' resources of water, forests, soils, minerals, conservation of biodiversity and ecotourism, the United Nations has declared the year 2002 as the International Year of the Mountains. It is not surprising that the Food and Agriculture Organisation has been made the lead agency to coordinate the activities concerning the decision.

Hillside cultivation is practiced in many countries around the world. More than 525 million people live and farm on tropical hillsides. In Asia, Africa and Latin America hillsides cover nine per cent of the Earth's landmass. Tropical hillsides yield large quantities of maize, beans, potato, cassava, coffee and rubber.

It is in the farmer's interest therefore to sustainably manage these slopes as the hills provide him with a livelihood. Therefore hill folk have over the years developed a certain traditional wisdom of shifting cultivation and hillside management. Recent studies have exploded the myth that these communities deforest the mountain slopes. On the contrary their presence ensures good maintenance of the land and forest in the area. Moreover farmers also grow trees in the area around their farms contributing to hillside stability. The land requires intensive labour as farming practices include terracing, zero tillage and manuring and composting. Shifting cultivation also improves soil quality as the soil becomes more fertile after mixing with burnt alder leaves and twigs.

Traditional systems are extremely important, even in today's world of modern science and technology. Their ecological rationality remains valid even today. Therefore any agency seeking to optimise the use of mountain area resources would be well advised to listen to the traditional wisdom of the local people.

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