Mountains occupy 24% of the terrestrial surface of the earth. In this rugged and varied landscape, agriculture and its related practices are quite different from agriculture in the plains. Mountain agriculture, like other forms of agriculture, is part of a holistic farming system. In the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, which is primarily agrarian and where ICIMOD is mandated to work, agriculture practices are integrated into five types of farming systems: (1) pastoral, (2) agro-pastoral, (3) middle-hill farming, (4) shifting cultivation, and (5) cash-crop based farming. 

The pastoral system is dominated by rangelands, which cover 54% of the HKH region (out of a total area of 4.3 million sq. km). In high altitude areas, livestock farming based on yak, sheep and goats is highly prevalent. 

Agro-pastoralism is a combination of agriculture and livestock farming with a high dependence on rangelands. 

Middle-hill farming is dominated by agriculture with integrated forestry, agroforestry and livestock farming. 

Shifting cultivation is a traditional slash-and-burn agroforestry practice with crop and fallow phases. 

Finally, cash crop based farming includes agroforestry-horticulture-based high value crops such as tea, coffee, nuts, fruits, medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), and spices such as large cardamom. 

Pastoralism, agro-pastoralism and shifting cultivation in particular are sustained through traditional systems of accessing and managing common pool resources. Therefore mountain agriculture is unique in many ways, and demands a farming systems development approach.

Overall approach

Mountain agriculture is different than plains agriculture and requires a point of view that incorporates multidisciplinary and holistic approaches towards improving the livelihoods of mountain women, men and children. The challenging circumstances of mountain agriculture are being compounded by climate change and other changes in mountains, which are having tremendous impacts on the HKH region. Socioeconomic dynamics are also changing; for instance, as a result of male outmigration, women are playing an increasingly important role in agriculture.

Therefore ICIMOD focuses on Adaptation to Change, including climate change, to overcome the impacts on farming systems and farmers. Our main focus is on increasing income for rural mountain people through agriculture and rural enterprises. Interventions are often deployed through women’s groups, in many cases through the use of remittances for agro-based development. ICIMOD also focuses on high-value agriculture products and related value chains for increasing the income of the poor farmers. 
In addition to farming, our programmes engage in off-farm income generating activities such as ecotourism-based local employment and additional ways to use remittances.  Increasingly ICIMOD is also engaging with the private sector to enhance impact on livelihoods. 

ICIMOD is contributing in practical ways to each of the above-mentioned farming systems’ knowledge development, action research for interventions, capacity building, piloting, and providing inputs to policy processes for improving livelihoods and increasing income for mountain farmers. 

The agriculture work of ICIMOD in the current programming falls across some regional programmes, such as Adaptation to Change and Transboundary Landscapes Management. It is also included in various initiatives, including River Basin Management, SERVIR-Himalaya, and the Atmospheric initiative.  All four thematic areas into which we organize our work -- Livelihoods, Water and Air, Ecosystem Services and Geospatial Solutions -- contribute to agriculture research and development.

Relevant Publications

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Digital grid dataset of agriculture area of Nepal. This data is generated using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index(NDVI) and acquired using MODIS data at 16-day time intervals and 250m resolution.

Land cover data of Bhutan for 2010. This dataset is created using the LandSat 30 meter spatial resolution satellite image of 2010.


Science applications

This interactive application provides land cover statistics for the whole country or a selected district. Change map is generated for each class showing the areas of gain or loss while the conversion to or from other classes can be seen on the chart. The land cover of different years can be viewed using a swipe tool which helps to explore the changes in a an interactive manner.


This application uses district based statistics on various agriculture products such as crops, legumes, fruits and livestock published by Ministry of Agriculture. Likewise, district’s elevation range information shown in the same section have been derived from global Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) 90m Digital Elevation Model dataset.


Stories and Good Practices

These are the stories, cases related to Agro-ecosystem