Protecting mountains in face of globalisation, migration
The cultural diversity of mountains and the need to protect the identity of highland people find voice in this year’s International Mountain Day celebration.
As culture is invariably linked to livelihood, safeguarding it against the onslaught of globalisation is must, says Rajan Kotru, regional programme manager, transboundary landscapes, ICIMOD. Speaking to Down To Earth, Kotru voiced concern over the degradation of cultural values in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region coupled with the impact of climate change.
“Himalayas are culturally rich. If we go by history and anthropology, the Himalayas have been our cradle for culture. Huge changes are happening here,” the ICIMOD expert said.
Resilience, livelihood at stake
The world’s mountains are home to a diverse range of populations such as Quechuas in the Andes, Amhara in Ethiopia and the Tibetans and Yi in China to name a few. Isolation created by rugged topography has helped in maintaining their distinct cultures, which have remained relatively intact. Unfortunately, the stability of mountain populations is at present threatened by migration.
People living in mountains are known for their nature-caring attitude. For centuries, they have experienced harmonious co-existence with the environment. However, exodus of highland people to the plains in search of livelihood opportunities has become a major problem. With this, the traditional knowledge of mountain people is getting destroyed.
To contain mass migration, there is an urgent need to open economic avenues for mountain people. With water shortage and degradation of grazing land due to furious dam-building activity, life has become harder for those who choose to stay behind.
Mountain people are some of the world’s poorest people. Most highland farmers cannot compete with the high production volume of lowlands and are frequently paid only a fraction of the value of their produce due to long supply chains that increase transportation and other costs. Generating new income streams for these producers can make a real difference and help prevent migration.
Mass tourism, which Kotru terms as “unplanned and unchecked” is also undermining mountain cultures. “We need responsible tourism implementing a code of conduct with environmental and cultural friendliness,” Kotru adds.
For tourism to benefit mountain people there is a need to control the flow of tourists visiting the Himalayas. Sensitisation of visitors, urging them to behave in a responsible manner, is also the need of the hour.
“It is important to ensure that mountain tourism does not add pressure on mountain environments and the valuable assets they provide such as water and biodiversity. Investing in sustainable tourism can reduce the costs of energy, water and waste disposal, and at the same time enhance the value of biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural heritage,” Rosalaura Romeo, Food and Agriculture Organization expert, says.
According to Romeo, economic benefits that arise from tourism must remain in local communities. Community-based mountain tourism can ensure a more equitable distribution of income, help maintain local cultures and knowledge, reduce migration and provide incentives for the protection of mountain ecosystems.