The IYM2002 spirit of cooperation continues
Cooperation is one of the distinguishing characteristics of mountain societies; indeed, it has long been recognized that sharing information, pooling resources and working together is essential for long-term survival in these environments. This spirit of working together to bring about meaningful change in mountain environments underlay the International Year of Mountains (IYM) in 2002—a springboard for long-term collaborative research and action to enhance the well-being of mountain people and conserve mountain ecosystems. The Year recognized that it was essential to intensify the regional and global exchange of research results, methods and approaches, as well as to reinforce research partnerships across continents and mountain regions. In particular, the Year also underlined the importance of connecting research partnerships between north and south to increase the sharing of research results and findings and expose stakeholders to different situations, conditions and approaches.
But three years on, how is the international community working together to ensure mountain research results are generated, distributed and translated into concrete action across the world? Scientists, academics, researchers and development workers are increasingly coming together to achieve these goals through the Mountain Partnership.
The launch of the Mountain Partnership at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD, Johannesburg, 2002) was one of the most significant global events during the International Year of Mountains. Today, the Partnership is acting both as a tool and a framework in which to enhance long-term cooperation and commitment to sustainable mountain development, offering exciting new opportunities to exchange results, to network, to initiate new activities, and to strengthen existing ones. The area of mountain research is a priority in these collaborative efforts.
A force for change
We can do better and achieve more by working together than working alone. This is the core idea behind the Mountain Partnership—a purely voluntary alliance of interested countries and organizations committed to improving the lives of mountain people and protecting mountain environments around the world. By May 2005, a total of 117 members had joined the Mountain Partnership: 45 countries, 14 intergovernmental organizations and 58 major groups (civil society, NGOs and the private sector).
Members are addressing the challenges facing mountain regions by tapping the wealth and diversity of resources, knowledge, information and expertise, from and between one another, in order to stimulate concrete initiatives at all levels that will ensure improved quality of life and environments in the world's mountain regions. Indeed, it is the collaborative action known as the ‘Partnership Initiatives’ which drives the Mountain Partnership. By May 2005, members had identified and were actively engaged in developing seven thematic initiatives (on education, gender, policy and law, research, sustainable agriculture and rural development or SARD–M, sustainable livelihoods, and watershed management), as well as six regional initiatives (on the Andes, Central America and the Caribbean, Central Asia, East Africa, Europe, and the Hindu Kush–Himalaya).
The Partnership Initiatives are not intrinsically ‘new’. Rather, they build on events, processes and concrete activities that took place or were started during the International Year of Mountains or before: for example, the SARD–M Initiative is driven by the outcomes of the global conference held in Adelboden, Switzerland, from 16–20 June 2002; the Gender Initiative is inspired by the findings of the Global Meeting “Celebrating Mountain Women”, held in Thimphu, Bhutan, from 1–4 October 2002; and Watershed Management has emerged from an extended watershed management review process carried out between 2002 and 2003 by FAO, in collaboration with various partners worldwide.
Notably, the Research Initiative takes its lead from the various promising global research programs related to sustainable mountain development that were begun or strengthened within the framework of the International Year of Mountains (see Box). These include the IGBP–IHDP–GTOS Mountain Research Initiative, the UNU/CDE program on sustainable mountain development and the numerous programs adapted to incorporate mountain-specific elements in their research activities that were developed by UN organizations, CGIAR research centers and NGOs.
Many of these groups and institutions are now members of the Mountain Partnership, and some are among the 40 members focusing joint efforts on the Mountain Partnership Research Initiative.
Bridging the communication gap
The Research Initiative of the Mountain Partnership is neither a new research program nor does it interfere with ongoing global mountain research projects. Instead, the Research Initiative recognizes that projects, policies and laws and other activities which support sustainable development in mountain areas have to be based on sound information and knowledge and that this is typically achieved by cooperation and information-sharing among partners. Much is known about the natural and social systems of mountain regions, but this information and knowledge tends to be fragmented among sources and themes and is not always well focused on sustainable development. Furthermore, there are important gaps in knowledge about key mountain issues that require greater attention by researchers. Although each of the existing mountain research programs links together many researchers from all over the world and the potential for collaboration is enormous, in reality there is often insufficient awareness, understanding and communication about ongoing programs and the link between them.
The mechanism of the Mountain Partnership helps bridge these gaps. It promises to create new opportunities for better coordination of ongoing research and a better focus for research priorities that address the needs of the members of the Mountain Partnership. More specifically, the Mountain Partnership Research Initiative provides a platform for communication among all ongoing global mountain research programs and the individuals involved, in order to exchange information and experiences, to identify needs, and to create greater coherence, effectiveness and efficiency in common research and development efforts.
Some 40 members have already signed up to work together on the Research Initiative, which is led by the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) and the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), both of which have their headquarters in Berne, Switzerland. Members of the Research Initiative have agreed to focus on the wider dissemination of knowledge about existing mountain research programs, researchers, institutions and funding sources for use by researchers, donors and stakeholders, and to establish a consultative process that links donors, stakeholders and researchers around key mountain research issues, in order to increase funding opportunities.
Prior to the Second Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership, or ‘Cusco Conference’ (Peru, 28–29 October 2004), leading members of the Research Initiative held a workshop for the first time to identify key issues and actions for the Initiative. The outputs of the workshop were further refined during the breakaway session dedicated to the Initiative at the Cusco Conference. Agreed next steps and activities in 2005 include: the development of a research community database that includes information on the topics noted above, as well as the development of research-issue assessments, which will focus on constraints that have limited research in the past and on opportunities for accelerating progress in the future.
The Mountain Partnership Secretariat, hosted by FAO and supported by the governments of Italy and Switzerland, is facilitating the process of building the Research Initiative—as it does with other thematic and geographic Initiatives in the Mountain Partnership. It connects members by organizing face-to-face meetings, by disseminating information and research results through e-mail distribution lists, a monthly newsletter and a dedicated Web site, and by maintaining a database on funding sources.
However, the Research Initiative is not being built in isolation from other Partnership activities. Recognizing that research is a cross-cutting issue in mountain development, the Secretariat is helping members of the Research Initiative forge links with other thematic and geographic Initiatives and assisting members in mainstreaming research concerns in all Partnership activities: by exposing members to effective models, good practices, and existing mechanisms, agreements and frameworks from other members that could be adapted to suit specific national and regional conditions.
In May 2005, for example, two meetings organized within the framework of the Mountain Partnership brought members face-to-face to share the findings of research on mountain biodiversity and transboundary cooperation and to network with others in order to maximize the impact of joint work now and in the future. Both meetings were held in Europe and discussed European-specific experiences, but both provided valuable lessons for potential adoption in other countries and mountainous regions of the world. The first meeting on legal instruments for trans-boundary cooperation for sustainable mountain development (FAO, Italy, 1 June 2005) focused on how transboundary areas could be protected and managed in partnership, using the experience of the “Espace Mont-Blanc.” This group, consisting of 3 Mountain Partnership countries, Italy, France and Switzerland, has come together to manage the Mont Blanc area at the sub-national level. The second meeting explored the conservation of some of the most important mountain ecosystems in Europe and took place during the “Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Ad Hoc Open-Ended Working Group on Protected Areas” (Montecatini, Italy, 16 June 2005). The event, entitled “A Vision for Biodiversity in the Alps and Carpathians: the Implementation of the CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas in the Conservation of Two Globally Important Mountain Ecoregions”, celebrated the partnership between the Alps and Carpathians in pursuing ambitious and effective conservation strategies and explored priorities for the next steps for government agencies and NGOs in the region. The event was facilitated by UNEP and sponsored by WWF, with the support of the European Academy of Bolzano (EURAC)—all Mountain Partnership members—in collaboration with other key partners such as the Carpathian Ecoregion Initiative, Birdlife and the Alpine Network of Protected Areas.
For further information about the Mountain Partnership and its Initiatives, visit www.mountainpart-nership.org. Subscribe to the monthly newsletter of the Mountain Partnership, ‘Peak to Peak’, by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some institutions implementing global mountain research programs
Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)*
CDE, part of the University of Berne in Switzerland, is concerned with development and environmental problems of the South and East with special emphasis on the sustainable management of natural resources. CDE manages and edits the quarterly journal Mountain Research and Development. Together with the United Nations University, CDE is implementing a Global Mountain Partnership Programme ( www.cde.unibe.ch/).
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)*
FAO is implementing a number of mountain research-related activities on themes such as the vulnerability of mountain people, watershed management, forests and water, nutrition, fisheries, pastures, policy and law ( www.fao.org/).
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)*
ICIMOD is a focal point for research, institutional strengthening, cooperation, and information sharing among the mountain areas of Asia, especially in the Hindu Kush–Himalayas. It operates through a partnership with member countries and partner institutions ( www.ici-mod.org.np/index.htm).
International Scientific Committee on Research in the Alps (ISCAR)*
ISCAR represents the scientific community as the official observer of the Alpine Convention, promotes information exchange and facilitates networking and cooperation between alpine organizations and institutions ( www.alpinestudies.ch/iscar/).
Mountain Research Initiative (MRI)*
MRI is a multidisciplinary scientific organization that addresses global change issues in mountain regions around the world through publications and events. MRI is working jointly with UNESCO and a consortium of partners, and is implementing the GLOCHAMORE project. MRI just published a report entitled Global Change and Mountain Regions: An Overview of Current Knowledge. The organization is developing a database as a central networking tool to connect people from research, government, NGOs and the private sector involved in the issue of global change in mountain regions. The database already comprises close to 3000 entries, featuring contact information and details on the participants' areas of expertise (mri.scnatweb.ch/content/view/40/44/).
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)*
UNESCO promotes collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication. UNESCO is implementing a number of mountain-specific programs, particularly related to water, the linkages between man and the biosphere, and biosphere reserves ( portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-RL_ID=15006&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html).
Other members of the Mountain Partnership
International Potato Center (CIP)
CIP promotes scientific research and related activities on potato, sweet potato, other root and tuber crops, and on the improved management of natural resources in the Andes and other mountain areas. CIP is coordinating the Global Mountain Program of the CGIAR centers ( www.cipotato.org/index2.asp).
United Nations University (UNU)
UNU is an international community of scholars, acting as a bridge between the UN and the international academic community, a think-tank for the UN system and a builder of capacities, particularly in developing countries. Over many years UNU has supported research in mountain areas. Jointly with the Centre for Development and Environment, UNU is currently implementing a Global Mountain Partnership Programme ( www.unu.edu/).
World Conservation Union (IUCN)
IUCN's mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. IUCN has many projects which are implemented in mountain areas and has established a Mountain Task Force to assist the Union in streamlin ing the mountain-related activities throughout the organization ( www.iucn.org/).
Other organizations and programs
Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA)
GMBA is a global network focusing on the mountain biodiversity research of DIVERSITAS, an international global change research program on biodiversity sciences (gmba.unibas.ch/index/index.htm).
International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO)
IUFRO has a task force on “Forests in Sustainable Mountain Development”. The objectives of this task force are to advise the Executive Board on current issues, initiatives and research needs as well as to provide a framework for developing and strengthening linkages ( iufro-down.boku.ac.at/iufro/taskforce/hptffmd.htm).