xi's moments
Home | Op-Ed Contributors

Safeguard the high life

By QU DONGYU | China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-11 07:49


We must not leave mountains and mountain people behind

Mountains are home to a growing number of the hungriest people in the world.

A new study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and its partners shows that the number of people living in mountainous areas vulnerable to food insecurity increased from 243 million to almost 350 million between 2000 and 2017.

In simple terms, one in every two rural mountain dwellers in developing countries was at risk of not having enough food for a healthy life even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

These figures are unacceptable.

Around the world, countries are working hard to achieve the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to end poverty and hunger, leaving no one behind.

But mountain people in developing countries run the risk of being left behind.

Instead of seeing their conditions improved, many rural mountain people are suffering due to the deterioration of the environment, their continued marginalization and lack of access to food, markets, basic services and infrastructure.

So what makes improving living conditions in mountain regions so difficult?

The ecosystems in which mountain people live are fragile. Environmental degradation affects mountain people disproportionately. Their choices and opportunities for nutritious food and balanced diets are limited. This also limits their capacity to cope with food shortages.

Climate change plays a role, triggering the degradation of mountain ecosystems and increasing the occurrence of natural hazards such as landslides and droughts, which can be disastrous for mountain communities. In developing countries, approximately 80 percent of the rural mountain population lives in areas affected by such hazards.

In mountain areas, overgrazing, unsustainable farming practices and urbanization can also lead to land degradation, with loss of agricultural lands and reduced productive capacity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the urgency of this situation. Restrictions adopted in response to the pandemic have amplified the existing vulnerabilities of mountain communities, which rely mostly on agriculture, tourism and remittances from migrant workers for their livelihoods.

Let us be absolutely clear: the deterioration of mountain environments is a massive problem for all of us.

Mountains provide about 60 percent to 80 percent of the world's freshwater, essential for domestic consumption, irrigation, industry and food and energy production. Mountains are rich in flora and fauna and host to about half of the world's biodiversity hotspots. Many of our food crops and livestock, such as potatoes, tomatoes, llamas and yaks, originated in the mountains.

All of us rely on the biological diversity and ecosystem services supported by mountains to help keep us healthy and prosperous.

So what do we need to do to ensure the food security of mountain people and promote the restoration of mountain environments?

Addressing climate change is a key piece of the puzzle. Transforming food systems by promoting sustainable agriculture and livelihoods is also vital, with the support of policies, innovation, research and community involvement.

As we enter the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the global community should focus on mountains as one of the key ecosystems requiring attention. Improving the resilience of mountain ecosystems by preventing soil erosion and maintaining meadows and forests can help maintain biodiversity. It also protects people in downstream areas from flash floods and landslides. At the same time, restored ecosystems ensure the water and soil productivity that is essential for agriculture.

Another pathway toward improvement is for rural mountain dwellers to find ways to earn income from the rich biodiversity of mountains while using sustainable approaches.

The Mountain Partnership, a United Nations alliance, works for livelihood improvement and natural resource management in mountain communities. With the support of the governments of Andorra, Italy and Switzerland, the Mountain Partnership Products labeling initiative promotes products that come from small-scale producers in mountain areas helping to sustain livelihoods and preserve local agrobiodiversity and traditional techniques.

These products include chamomile tea and pink rice from India, white honey from Kyrgyzstan and jams from Peru. The initiative has already supported more than 10,000 farmers-6,000 of them women-in eight countries, and has resulted in production increases of up to 40 percent and sales increases of up to 49 percent.

Taking this concept a step further, the FAO is launching the 1,000 Digital Villages Initiative, which focuses on increasing resilience, diversifying incomes and building back better in rural areas through digital technologies, including e-commerce, and through innovative promotion of rural tourism.

Advertising for these digital villages, their agricultural production, sustainable agri-food systems and cultural elements, as well as agri-tourism will be done through various digital platforms.

Mountain areas need to be part of the rural digital transformation that is driven by the urgency to narrow the urban-rural digital gap and regional disparities, accelerate job creation, rural economic diversification, promote agri-tourism and improve farmers' incomes and livelihoods.

Mountain biodiversity is the theme of this year's International Mountain Day, to be celebrated on Dec 11. This day should be a reminder that governments, organizations and communities can and should do much more to help mountain people protect natural resources, improve their livelihoods and keep mountain environments healthy.

When we say we will leave no one behind, let us mean it.

The author is director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349