ICIMOD Director General Dr David Molden’s Statement at the launch of the Declaration on Agricultural Diversification, Paris

Agricultural diversification not a choice but a necessity


I wish to convey the warmest of greetings from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the people of the eight regional member countries we serve - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. 

The launch of the Declaration on Agricultural Diversification could not be more timely, especially when the world’s eyes are turned towards Paris for the much needed new hope for humankind’s continued survival on Earth. 

ICIMOD serves mountain people in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region, covering the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Karakorum Mountains, and the Tibetan Plateau stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar. These mountains provide a large and diverse range of resources to the 210 million people living in the area. With the largest reserve of ice and snow outside the Polar Regions, the Hindu Kush Himalayas act as the water towers of Asia, providing fresh water to over 1.3 billion people, including breadbasket areas that feed three to four billion people. The region is rich with biodiversity, including four of the 32 global biodiversity hotspots. People will be looking to the mountains for the agricultural biodiversity to feed future generations. So, when we think about issues of livelihoods, water, food, and energy, mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are of critical importance for its people, for Asia, and if we consider food, water, and energy implications, these mountains are an important resource for the world. 

The Hindu Kush Himalayas are under threat from climate change and a range of rapid socio-economic transformations. Glaciers are melting, there is ecosystem change, the incidence of disasters is on the rise, and people are migrating out of the mountains. The future of the people and mountain resources is therefore not clear.

On the positive side, mountains have a huge amount of diversity – of people and practices, food and agricultural systems, ecosystems, and culture. That diversity is a major ingredient in building the resilience to deal with change.

The HKH region has numerous endemic, rare, and lesser known crops and traditional knowledge systems that are being lost rapidly as people replace it with more generic staples like rice, wheat, maize, and potato. As temperatures rise, mountains will serve as a refuge as different species will move uphill in search of cooler climates.

Agricultural diversification provides an opportunity to make a profound impact on the quality of life where mountain farming households of whom the majority tills less than one hectare of land. Mountain farmers have adopted risk-averting and risk-spreading strategies that have led to complex and diversified farming systems, using different resources like cropland, pastures, and forests at different altitudes and at different times of the year. 

Agricultural diversification towards selective high value products including fruits, vegetables, medicinal herbs, wild edibles, and farm animals like yak, goats and sheep compatible with the comparative advantage of the mountain areas, is an effective strategy in raising incomes, improving nutrition, generating employment opportunities, and alleviating poverty among small and marginal households in the HKH region.

However, taking further advantage of these opportunities will require an enabling policy framework in support of sustainable mountain farming – a framework that should include support of agricultural diversity and use of traditional knowledge, facilitation of payments for key ecosystem services, investment in capacity development for the empowerment of mountain communities, in particular of rural women. 

Today, agricultural diversification must be seen not as a choice but a necessity, because, how we manage our agricultural biodiversity will have a direct bearing on future food security. At the same time, we must also promote climate resilient farming practices and increase research and development into promoting agricultural diversification. 

ICIMOD applauds the leadership of Crops for the Future, and appreciates the role of the Association of International Centres for Agriculture (AIRCA) in carrying this forward. ICIMOD fully supports the Paris Declaration on Agricultural Diversification and the Global Action Plan for Agricultural Diversification.  

Thank you very much.