Moving Mountains

For mountains and people

Mountain livelihoods

Practices in farming and grazing that enabled people to thrive in the past may not continue to be effective as ecosystems degrade, population dynamics shift and a rapidly changing world puts pressure on communities.

Supporting mountain people in adapting to rapid and unpredictable change is an important area of work for ICIMOD. Researching and piloting programs on high value products, innovative livelihood options and rural income generation strategies lie at the heart of

efforts to help the people of the Hindu Kush Himalayas cope with the effects of socioeconomic and environmental change. Reducing poverty and improving the environment must be linked together if the livelihoods of mountain people are to be sustainable for the future.

Featured Video

Bio-briquette: An innovative livelihood option

Bio-briquette as an alternative source.


The Hindu Kush Himalayas are a hot spot of climate change. There is already evidence of major changes affecting mountain areas, with potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of millions of people in the mountains and downstream. Adaptation means reacting effectively to the impacts that are already being experienced, anticipating future impacts, and adjusting to them to reduce the harm for ecosystems and the people who rely on them.

Adaptation requires the sustainable use of land, water, energy and other resources, which means that it needs to be promoted in multi-pronged ways, from local practices to the policy level to global engagement. Vulnerability to socioeconomic and environmental change is highly contingent upon the social context, including social and power relations, class, gender, and ethnicity, so adaptation strategies must also reflect a nuanced understanding of these dynamics.

ICIMOD enhances resilience and supports the adaptation of vulnerable communities and ecosystems through initiatives that include livelihood diversification, promotion of adaptive strategies, disaster risk reduction, institutional strengthening, policy dialogue and participatory policy making, enhancement of regional cooperation, and mainstreaming climate adaptation as a component of development policy and practice.

Economic valuation of ecosystem services

What is an ecosystem worth? In one sense, the value can’t be calculated. But from tourism to agriculture to water, ecosystems provide crucial resources and services that underpin the economic life of the Hindu Kush Himalayas. Nearly 50 percent of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and 32 percent of global protected areas lie in these mountains, and they provide economic benefits at the local, national, regional and international level. But how, exactly, is this measured? How do we determine the economic value of natural resources, habitat and biodiversity?

As population growth, climate change and globalization put pressure on mountain ecosystems, we need to understand what’s at stake for the region’s economic health when ecosystems degrade, and we need to find ways to incorporate this understanding into the national policy and planning process. That’s what ICIMOD is doing by developing and testing frameworks and methodologies on economic valuation of mountain ecosystems and working to integrate the knowledge gained into policy decisions.

Food and Nutrition Security

Mountain people endure the highest levels of food and nutrition insecurity in the region. Not only is it challenging to farm in the mountains, but farmers depend heavily on a few highly selective crops, agro-biodiversity is declining, and climate change is contributing to the depletion of natural resources. Those factors combine with socioeconomic pressures to make mountain people particularly vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity.

There are many plant species grown in the region with significant food and nutritional or industrial potential, such as millet, sorghum, buckwheat, sea-buckthorn, and wild fruits. But they remain under-utilized, without a clear strategy for their evaluation and development. With institutional support to intensify production and diversify farming systems, the region has considerable potential for agricultural production, from agro-forestry to fruit, vegetable and nut farming to the raising of fish, poultry and livestock.

Green Economy

A green economy creates growth while also improving the environment and people’s lives. It’s a key part of sustainable development, and can be pictured as being built with three pillars: social, economic and environmental. In a general sense, a green economy means an economy that is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. Public and private investments drive income growth and employment in ways that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Conservation of ecosystems and provision of sustainable clean energy are at the heart of the agenda for a green economy.

ICIMOD is working to develop a well-informed and action-oriented green economy strategy for sustainable mountain development. Through research and policy support, we work on ways to harness elements of a green economy to improve the economy, society and environment of the mountain region.

Green Economy and Sustainable Mountain Development: Opportunities and Challenges in View of Rio+20

The International Conference on Green Economy and Sustainable Mountain Development is a collaborative initiative to bring together international, regional, and national experts and policy makers to discuss the relevance and scope of the green economy in the context of sustainable mountain development. It will seek strategies, approaches, and options for enhancing the role and prominence of mountain systems in regional and international debates and discussions.

High Value Products

The diversity of climates, growing conditions and ecosystems in the mountains give them a comparative advantage for high-value niche products and service. One area may have an untapped wealth of medicinal plants; another may have potential for indigenous beekeeping and honey productions; others may be potential sources of soaps and lotions, bamboo or nettle. Even ruggedness and remoteness can be an economic advantage when an area can attract tourism. A range of activities, products and services have excellent potential to provide sustainable livelihood options for mountain people.

To enable this to happen, ICIMOD promotes a pro-poor value chain development approach to enhance income for mountain households. This means expanding access to information, financial services and micro-finance and strengthening farmers’ groups, cooperatives and agri-businesses. It involves value chain analyses of products and services and the identification of niche products. It’s about finding out what products mountain people can produce and sell, enabling them to find the finances to do it, and determining how to link these products to the market.


Herbal Gardens in Schools

This video features the learning experiences of schools and school children that volunteered to pilot an initiative on 'Promoting Herbal Gardens in Schools' in Nepal, launched in observance of the International Year of Biodiversity 2010.

Non-farm livelihoods promotion

Farming alone can’t meet the needs of a growing population. Faced with environmental stress and limited economic opportunities, rural youth are finding it increasingly hard to make a living in the mountains, and choose to migrate to urban areas and abroad, leaving the women and old people behind.

Non-farm livelihood options are pivotal to the sustainable future of mountain people and communities. A wide range of alternative income sources needs to be explored, understood and promoted, including rural enterprise development, collection of medicinal plants and other herbs, tourism, wage labor and remittance work. From micro-finance for livelihood promotion to market linkages for mountain products to information community technology (ICT) for rural development, ICIMOD works to expand the opportunities for earning a viable livelihood in the mountains.

Kiwi as a high value fruit in Nepal

ICIMOD has been promoting kiwi farming among mountain farmers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region by providing information about the fruit. It has also supplied the farmers with grafted saplings and helped build their capacity. Many farmers have benefited from these services and have taken up kiwi farming seriously.

Policy analysis

What are the conditions that create a vibrant rural economy, and how can policies work to encourage this? What policies are likely to attract investment, generate employment, reduce risks and vulnerabilities and build capacities in mountain areas?

Mountains have comparative advantages in resources such as water, energy, biological resources, ecosystem services and local knowledge. But to develop these resources in ways that benefit mountain people, it’s important to craft sound policies that encourage inclusive, appropriate development.

ICIMOD is working to support national, regional and local policy-making in a variety of sectors. It’s devising ways to facilitate the adaptation of mountain communities to climate and socioeconomic change by promoting sustainable incomes and gainful employment, addressing the food, water and energy nexus, upscaling innovations into actionable programmes, and determining ways for policies to impact those goals.

Careful analysis and evaluation of existing policies and relevant options helps to identify policy gaps and provides the information that help policymakers make decisions. Ultimately, it enables mountain communities to harness their comparative advantages for a sustainable future.

High Level Policy Panel

Realising the Future We All Want: Why is Sustainable Mountain Development Critical for National Development Agendas?

Poverty and vulnerability assessment

Poverty in the Hindu Kush Himalayas can be traced in part to factors specific to mountain regions, which lead to higher and more persistent levels of poverty and vulnerability than in non-mountain areas. Poverty and vulnerability are closely related and mutually reinforcing. Vulnerability, which can be thought of in terms of aspects such as exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity, may influence household behavior and coping strategies, making it an important consideration for poverty reduction policies.

But one-dimensional income poverty measures have had limited success. It has become clear that we need to address mountain poverty and vulnerability in a holistic, multi-dimensional way. ICIMOD employs a range of tools to capture this nuanced picture, from conducting household surveys across five member countries to preparing datasets for a regional database to pioneering a Poverty and Vulnerability Assessment survey tool to identify pockets and location-specific drivers of poverty and vulnerability. Access to richer and more precise information means that practitioners can target and design development interventions to have a greater and more lasting impact.

International Conference on Poverty and Vulnerability

The Conference aims to compile updated knowledge on the contours of poverty and enablers of a sustainable development approach for the HKH and thereby, provide inputs specific to the mountain context that can contribute to the formulation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Conference also proposes to set the tone for forging and strengthening regional partnerships for sustainable mountain development.

Private sector engagement

The private sector is a fundamental partner in sustainable mountain development. Businesses lead economic growth, create jobs, provide reliable incomes and improve livelihood opportunities. The innovation and vision of the private sector will help point the way to a stable and equitable future for mountain people.

As users of mountain resources, the private sector plays a critical role in ensuring that economic growth has a future by engaging in practices that are green, sustainable and protect the region’s invaluable natural resources and biodiversity. ICIMOD works to increase understanding of the long-term economic payoffs of socially and environmentally responsible business practices and to open the doors for win-win collaborations with the private sector that benefit mountain communities, including mobilizing investments to pilot new and innovative approaches for mountain livelihoods.

Rural enterprise development

A rural enterprise can be any economic unit engaged in producing and distributing goods and services, from individual households to larger operations, and they play a vital role in poverty reduction and economic development. But there are many things that businesses need to do to flourish in today’s complex, competitive world.

For instance, the interest in natural, handmade, fair-trade and green products opens up ways for rural enterprises to thrive – but they need access to urban and global markets. ICIMOD works to promote the products of rural enterprises, identify potential microenterprise opportunities, and build capacity in key skills such as business development, market orientation and leadership.

Rural entrepreneurs are linked with larger players in the private sector. Pathways are found for improving the flow of goods and services between rural and urban areas. Local resources and traditional knowledge are harnessed to improve lives, livelihoods and environmental sustainability in mountain regions.

By helping rural people to combine local knowledge, resources and creativity with broader skills and wider networks, ICIMOD helps to improve employment opportunities and adaptation strategies for mountain people across the Hindu Kush Himalayas.


Sustainable energy

Mountain households typically rely on traditional biomass such as wood for cooking and heating. That takes a heavy toll on the environment, human health and time, particularly for the women and children who must collect it, while the lack of access to affordable, clean and sustainable energy impedes development and entrenches poverty.

Caught between poverty and environmental degradation, mountain communities find it difficult to meet daily energy service needs sustainably. The cost of providing electricity is high in the numerous poor, off-the-grid communities scattered across the Hindu Kush Himalayas. Conventional approaches to rural electrification through a centralized power plant and power line distribution have been unable to reach these areas, which are often remote, rugged and dispersed.

ICIMOD aims to find sustainable energy solutions by addressing three broad criteria of sustainability: availability, affordability, and acceptability. It is currently working for a greener future through programs that include impact documentation of best practices, impact assessment, analysis of renewable energy policy and mainstreaming, and promoting decentralized renewable energy for rural mountain areas so that clean, sustainable energy can become available for every household.

Strengthening mountain livelihood opportunities

While most of the people of the Hindu Kush Himalayas rely on subsistence agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods, traditional agriculture alone can’t meet all their needs. On the one hand, high mountains are regions of great diversity – biological, climate, topographic and cultural – which gives them a comparative advantage for niche products and services. But they’re also remote, with poor transportation and little development of the methods used to collect, process and market products. Those challenges keep mountain people, particularly women and other marginalized groups, from benefitting from their potential resources.

ICIMOD works to increase options and adapt mountain livelihoods to climate and socioeconomic change in a number of ways, including developing and piloting innovative ideas and supporting the upscaling of good practices. Efforts also aim to develop and promote pro-poor and gender-responsive options and strategies for livelihood diversification; develop ways to unleash the potential of local products and services; and build the capacity of stakeholders to adopt, adapt and upscale.

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