Moving Mountains

Mountain agriculture

Farming systems

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:

Types of farming systems


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

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

Shifting cultivation

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

Cash-crop based farming

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.

Featured Publication

Summary of the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Report (2019)

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Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Report

Influencing policies in agriculture

Influencing policies in the regional member countries of the HKH region has been a continuous process for ICIMOD.

Some of the agriculture-related policy contributions include rangeland policy in Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan; Chittagong Hill Track development in Bangladesh, where shifting cultivation transformation is a major issue incorporated in the National Plan; and food security policy in Pakistan, where ICIMOD brought a mountain perspective. After the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, ICIMOD collaborated with the National Planning commission to develop the Livelihood Framework for Reconstruction which is being used now.

ICIMOD also collaborated with the Agriculture Ministry of Bhutan to prepare the National Agriculture Marketing Policy and has prepared Yarsagumba (caterpillar plant) harvesting guidelines in Nepal. ICIMOD is working with the REDD focal points of Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Nepal for developing REDD at landscape levels that take into account agriculture land uses as well.

News and features

Around the HKH

Related Initiative

Resilient Mountain Solutions (RMS)

The initiative builds on research and solutions developed and tested by ICIMOD and its partners to identify a range of options that have proven effective and applicable in the diverse mountain context of the HKH.

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Godavari Knowledge Park

Learn agricultural practices and technologies demonstrated at the Godavari Knowledge Park

The Godavari Knowledge Park provides different technologies, farming and other practices useful for sustainable development.

Stories and good practices

Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative Video

The Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI) is a transboundary collaborative programme between China, India, and Nepal that has evolved through a participatory, iterative process among various local and national research and development institutions within these countries.

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