International Mountain Day 2014 Celebrated at ICIMOD Headquarters


ICIMOD celebrated International Mountain Day under the theme ‘Mountain Farming’ at its headquarters on 11 December 2014. The event featured a Knowledge Forum talk by Dr Mahabir Pun, a pioneering social entrepreneur and Magsaysay Award recipient who has done exemplary work in the mountains of Nepal. During the event, ICIMOD also announced the winners of ‘ICT for Mountain Development Award’, which was launched in 2014 on World Environment Day.

In his opening remarks, Shekhar Ghimire, Officiating Director General of ICIMOD, highlighted the critical role of mountain farming in providing sustenance to mountain households across the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. He noted that it was the first time ICIMOD was celebrating International Mountain Day in all eight countries of the HKH region – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. He also informed everyone that ICIMOD, at that very moment, was participating in Lima Climate Change Conference – COP20 – to help place the HKH mountain agenda on the global map. 

Dr Mahabir Pun shared his 22 years’ experience working with people in the mountain villages of Nepal. He recalled his earliest dream – born out of necessity – of bringing internet services to rural Nepal to improve inter-village communication, education and income opportunities. His pioneering work opened up possibilities in e-commerce, digital learning, and telemedicine. He founded Himanchal School in Nangi village but needed a regular source of income to run it, which led him to focus on income generation activities. As neither donor aid nor government grant seemed forthcoming, he initiated a wide range of income generating activities such as yak farming and yak-cow crossbreeding programme, jam and paper production, cash crops, bee keeping, and ecotourism.  He helped establish a trekking route to bring tourists to Myagdi, and started ‘eco-friendly’ community-owned lodges along the route. As these lodges had to be powered by clear energy in order to be called ‘eco-friendly’, he turned to renewable sources of energy such as micro-hydro and solar. 

Dr Pun and his team have so far connected 175 villages in 15 districts of Nepal to the Internet using wireless technology, an amazing feat by any measure. However, he admitted that he is still not content with his work, as he wants to make an impact at the national level. He is now starting his dream project, Innovation Nepal, to nurture bright people with new ideas, provide them technical/financial support when needed, and also help them with licensing, patenting, and commercializing their innovations. His reason is clear and simple: the state of science and technology in Nepal is dismal, and without progress on this front, the country will continue to lose its best and brightest to developed countries. How will be pay for the project? He proposed an idea:  borrow money from investors to generate 10 MW hydropower, sell the power to power companies and use the proceeds to pay off the loan within 7—8 years. And use the balance and future income to fund his dream project.  

Photo/ Credit: Jitendra Bajracharya

To help control wildlife poaching, Dr Pun and his team are field-testing an ICT-enabled poacher surveillance system in the Chitwan National Park. Regarding his current partnership with ICIMOD, Dr Pun said he is open to working with ICIMOD at the field level.

Recountng lessons learned, he said, “You cannot always look to donors and government for support, so you have to begin with what you have and what you can mobilize.” He stressed that it is important to address communities’ pressing needs. “Otherwise why should they even cooperate with you?” His experience shows that success comes through hard work and persistence. For instance, when his initial efforts to bring income-generating schemes failed, he did not give up but kept trying and learning from his mistakes. “You have to be very stubborn to work with people in mountain areas, and cannot give up easily when things go awry,” he said.

Sushil Pandey, Knowledge Management and Communication Specialist at ICIMOD, briefly talked about ‘ICT for Mountain Development Award’. The award seeks to recognize promising ICT-enabled innovations, good practices, and approaches that have been applied in the HKH region to promote mountain development and conservation. Of the 17 entries received from within the region, four had been shortlisted by a panel of ICIMOD experts based on pre-established criteria. 

Presenting a khada scarf and a plaque to Dr Pun, Shekhar Ghimire said that the ICIMOD family was honouring Dr Pun “for his outstanding contribution to community development in the Nepal Himalaya.” He also handed out certificates to the four winners of ‘ICT for Mountain Development Award’: Avnish Jha (Nepal) for ‘ICT for Agriculture’; the SDC-funded ‘Local Infrastructure for Livelihood Improvement' project implemented by HELVETAS (Nepal office) for ‘Web-based Inventory and Mapping of Farmer-Managed Irrigation Schemes’; Dr Suleman Mazhar (Pakistan) for ‘Development of Geospatial Data-loggers for Monitoring Transhumance Grazing Patterns’; and Jayprakash Panwar (India) for his content-based ‘The Inside Stories of Mountains’. As Dr Mazhar and Panwar could not attend the event, two ICIMOD staff members accepted the certificates on their behalf.