Mountain Perspective Framework In Post Rio+20 Scenarios: A Discussion Paper

Mar 18th, 2013 | By | Category: Adaptation, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Capacity Development, Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Ecosystem Functions, Environment, Events, Experts Speak, Food, Forest, Governance, Government Policies, Information and Communication, International Agencies, Land, Lessons, Livelihood, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Migration, Opinion, Population, Resilience, Rio+20, Vulnerability, Water

Dr. KarkiDr. Madhav Karki discusses about sustainable mountain development- SMD agenda that was adopted during 1992 Rio Earth summit, and how the socio-economic and environmental issues were taken by countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayan- HKH region during last 20 years in terms of achieving the goals as envisioned in SMD document. He argues that mountain perspective framework- MPF was about mountain specific development considering issues like remoteness, marginality, fragility, etc., could not be implemented and owned by country governments in the HKH due to various reasons. Dr. Karki suggests to review and rethink about MPF to develop a more dynamic and operational agenda that could be adopted widely in Himalayan countries.    

We are looking for further observations and comments on this discourse at our ‘Mountain Perspective’ discussion thread. Link>> 

Mountain stakeholders throughout the World, I believe, agree that sustainable mountain development (SMD) as envisioned by Chapter 13, Agenda 21 has not moved much far – substantially speaking – from the conceptual document level to implementation and delivery levels since 1992 when it was first adopted by the UNCED summit held at Rio de Janeiro.

Given the tremendous changes that have occurred in social, economic, and environmental status and affairs of the mountain countries and multiple challenges mountain communities hMountain Farming picture-Dr. Karkiave been facing, achieving the goal of the SMD as envisioned by its authors in 1992 has faced multiple problems and barriers. ICIMOD, one of the premier and mandated SMD oriented organization engaged in knowledge development, sharing and enabling activities propounded the much acclaimed Mountain Perspective Framework (MPF) in early 90s perhaps in the context of and/or in response to the adoption of the Chapter 13, Agenda 2.

The basic premise of the MPF as formulated by the ICIMOD team led by Jodha et al (1992), I believe, was that mountains as a distinct mosaic of geographic units and ecosystems face specific and different constraints and opportunities as compared to say plains or dry lands, in terms of marginality, inaccessibility and fragility as barriers to pursue development and improved well being. At the same time, highly adaptive nature of mountain people and unique economic, cultural, spiritual, and environmental values of mountain-based niche products and services provide for rich environmental and natural resources which if managed effectively and wisely could perhaps lead to the vision of SMD.

The MPF concept as formulated by Jodha and his team, no doubt was a good and pioneer theoretical framework to analyse and understand development problems and opportunities in mountain contexts. However, like the Chapter 13 which was largely written by geographers ecologists, and environmentalists and did not receive the much needed ownership and buy-ins of the government policy makers, bureaucrats and politicians, the MPF also largely written by economists and geographers did not get the required endorsement, and ownership of the policy makers, donors, bureaucrats of mountainous countries.

Even general mountain stakeholders do not seem to have shown much enthusiasm which perhaps led to its weak link and application to the design and development of SMD related plans and programmes during the last 20 years. One clear example of this weakness can be seen in the strategy and programmes of the FAO-based Mountain Partnership (MP) that was formed in 2002 as a part of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPoI) to take the Agenda 21 further which does not seem to use the MPF in its promotion of SMD. It seems to me that the MPF as was written by Jodha et al has outlived its utility as the contexts and frame conditions for working on mountain development issues have significantly changed during the last 20 years.

One can note that not many mountain-focused development, research and outreach organizations are applying the MPF in designing and implementing of their mountain focused programmes. For example, ICIMOD does not explicitly apply the mountain perspective framework in its current strategy and programmatic framework. This leads me to argue that perhaps the MPF is no more an applicable and robust policy framework and therefore cannot be applied in planning SMD since a framework to be operational has to be a more comprehensive and guiding in its formulation, structure and content. I believe that that MPF does not need to be prescriptive but at least it needs to be applicable and agile as an instrument for planning and implementing programmes.

Rationale for a New MPF

Mountain mix farming Dr. KarkiTherefore I would argue that the MPF developed by Jodha et al could not became widely operational framework perhaps because it was not prepared as an operational document to achieve the goal of SMD. Dr. Jodha himself says that the purpose of the MPF is `to facilitate development approaches in mountains’ (Jodha, 2012). More importantly, although the main focus of the MPF was the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, it perhaps underestimated the limitations of the compartmentalized nature of bureaucratic and institutional structures that prevail in most of the ICIMOD member countries that do not facilitate the practice of multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary working culture of the government agencies, that I consider critical for the application of the MPF concepts in planning and programming SMD.

Therefore, I am fully in favour of re-examining, reorienting, and updating the MPF to suit the needs of the mountain countries, especially in the context of the post Rio+20 actions. The main rationale behind my argument is that we need to develop a new and revamped MPF as an operational framework or a planning tool and such a framework needs to be of truly dynamic nature – a sort of living document. A dynamic policy document will have the capacity and resilience to accommodate all the changes and challenges that mountain countries are facing now and in future. It means that the current challenges and opportunities brought about by climate, socioeconomic and global changes will have to be carefully factored in such a policy framework.

The new and operational MPF has to also embrace new opportunities brought about by the Rio+20 declaration, specifically the opportunities and way forward suggested in Paras 210, 211 and 212 of the Outcome document: THE FUTURE WE WANT. It is now a necessity to reassess the constraints, opportunities and way forward in such an updated perspective framework document and come up with a more practical operational mountain perspective framework incorporating the learning and views as well as explicitly recognizing the role of policy makers, politicians, researchers and civil society organizations in an explicit manner.

I argue that development of a new MPF should be a truly participatory and multi-disciplinary exercise that now-a-days has become a norm to develop any new policy framework at national or local level. For a highly diverse and predominantly dwelled by poor and marginalized people, in the context of mountains, such an approach becomes all the more necessary to achieve the goal of SMD. The new document should put the sustainable development and sustainability issues facing the mountain areas at the core as well as in a strategic framework and perspectives covering local, national, and regional to global issues.

Mountain women Dr. KarkiThe proposed new MPF as elaborated below have possibilities to help change the constraints and complexities of mountain specificities considering the current environmental, developmental and social challenges as well as a range of transformational possibilities and directions. I also argue that not all changes mountains are currently facing are negative and of harmful consequences. Some of them such as opening up of new areas for agriculture and new plants and crops, increased availability of new information and knowledge, development of new capacities, and infrastructure due to increased level of national and global funding – e.g., climate change funding – in fact can equip the historically neglected mountain communities with new resources to more effectively participate in the new SMD agenda and help develop a more operational and simpler framework for making mountain specific and tailor-made interventions.

The sustainable development processes are getting priorities in the post Rio+20 phase since new sustainable development paradigm is now required to encompass climate change and other global change dimensions in the post 2015 global sustainable development as well as millennium development goals.

Main Elements of new Mountain Perspective Framework (MPF)

The new MPF, in my thinking, has to be based on the key factors of changes and challenges facing mountain communities and ecosystems so as to enable appropriate response by policy makers to practitioners in a dynamic manner. These elements may not be articulated as specificities rather they can be presented as elements to consider to either developing mountain specificities or as criteria to develop plans and programmes for SMD.

The mountain perspectives described below are generally articulated in a positive direction and framework based on some of the good practices and positive results as well as taking note of experiences of several mountain countries, albeit at micro levels and limited scales. It is argued that mountain perspective framework has to be framed to address changing mountain problems and issues in a dynamic manner and therefore elements of dynamism is integral part of the development process of new mountain perspectives.

However, the dynamism has to be applicable at national, sub-national and local levels by concerned decision makers especially for planning and implementation of SMD related activities which so far has not happened. The appropriate response to changing attributes of mountain specificities, in terms of approaches and designs of development interventions in fact should drive or shape the dynamics of MFP as several examples below indicate:

The new MFP has to be a broad policy framework that provides contexts and structure for designing and implementing both developmental and environmental interventions to help mountain ecosystems and people improve their well being integrating climate change adaptation elements as well. In the dynamic context of the framework setting, one needs to keep in mind the possibility that when the contexts and imperatives shift (due to changing frame conditions and societal transformations that are happening in mountains over the last 20 years), the human responses/ interventions need to also go through constant revision and adjustments which in today’s context is called adaptation.

An old man in uttarakhand Photo-Rautela CHIMountain people, as described above by one of the mountain specificities, have been known for their high adaptability and resilience although in today’s context due to the unprecedented pace of socio-economic changes especially due to high climate variability, this traditional positive attribute of mountain communities is proving to be inadequate. Also, as a part of the change process, principally migration,  socioeconomic , and education parameters, the aforementioned mountain specificities themselves are changing in their nature to effect negative or positive consequences and making the normal adaptation response insufficient to cope up with the fast pace of changes.

If we take the HKH region as an example, we can witness that changes in the flow of ecosystem products and services derived from mountain ecosystems are actually the result of the nature-society interaction dynamics (Jodha, 2012) and therefore the ecosystem status and its effects on people are based on the combined impacts of climatic and non-climatic factors. In this respect we can argue the following new perspectives in the new and more operational MPF:

Changing Nature of Accessibility/Inaccessibility

The inaccessibility issue highlights the deprivation and disempowerment status of mountain people. However, compared to 1992 much improvement in this area has happened although they are still grossly inadequate and unequal compared to the similar improvement we see in say plain areas or lowland environment and communities.

However, increased road networks, transport links and spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs) especially rapid penetration of mobile telephone services and wireless technologies have greatly improved the physical and virtual access situations in mountains. The impacts are reflected in terms of enhanced local level capacities, technical skills, education facilities and two-way information flow, especially in marketing and trading activities. The resultant improved access and reach are helping mountain communities to expand their economic and social interactions and activities going beyond the traditionally isolated, semi-closed vocations and locations. This has raised the scope and opportunities for mountain communities to participate in the wider, external, and larger contexts of development, communication, and participation especially in commerce, trade, enterprise and entrepreneurial activities.

Besides, these information infrastructures have enhanced information and communication between the macro-level and micro-level entities leading to joint or collective actions against major challenges faced by mountains and other ecosystems especially in dealing with phenomena such as climate change, natural disasters and economic globalization. The positive result of the above changes has been the enlarged economic horizon of mountain communities, their increased visibility and integration with larger economic domain involving national as well as local perspectives. This helps in reconciliation of contradictory national and local level perceptions regarding socio-economic and political marginality of mountain people and hitherto slow response mountain peoples’ needs get from the national policies that often affect the well being of mountain communities. Weak property rights to ecosystem resources including lack of secure tenure to common property resources has been one of the major issues hampering mountain people’s economic development which still needs resolution.

Expanding Economic Opportunities and Weakening Human Security

A lady in UK highlands Photo-RautelaBiophysical marginality has been one of the perspectives highlighted by the MFP. The rugged, hazardous and less fertile, sloping lands generally unsuitable to high intensity and market-oriented agriculture are perceived to be marginal land. However, high value niche forest and organic food products are not perceived as low-value products any more. In the changed circumstances due to recognition of their high biodiversity, niche values, and ecological services, the mountain ecosystems are better valued for their role as carbon sinks, spaces for specific conservation measures, off-season farming and seed storage and therefore their direct and indirect values have increased significantly (Jodha 2102).

Increasing access to these regions has also opened up many locations for eco-tourism, religious, health and adventure tourism taking advantage of enchanting landscapes and prevalence of abundant medicinal and aromatic herbs. Accordingly, such areas are no more inferior piece of land which was the conventional thinking. Community-based or collective actions in managing and protection of mountain commons and high return ventures from commercial farming through value addition efforts are increasingly being explored and promoted. Apple farming and bee keeping in Himachal Pradesh, India; vegetable farming in and around Kathmandu valley in Nepal and ecotourism in Bhutan can be cited as examples of successful management of mountain niches. This qualitative change in mountain resource management links quite well with different ongoing and planned interventions besides helping in getting  better recognition of the role, mountain communities play in practicing environmental stewardship and good natural resources management practices.

In order to cope with increasing frequency and ferocity of natural disasters – increasingly aggravated by the forces of climate change and climate variability – community-based disaster and risk management and early warning efforts are being enhanced to decrease fragility.  These climatic limitations and risks are defining the fragility of mountain ecosystems in a different manner which needs to be responded with enhanced resilience building measures the best of which is diversified livelihoods and improved community-based approaches.

Improving Socio-Economic Inclusiveness and Weak Tenure and Governance

Marginality of mountain people has been generally defined from political, economic, physical and governance dimensions. The socio-economic marginalization and exclusion of mountain rural and poor, backward, indigenous and dalit population have been an important issue in mountain context. In recent years, however, their rights, entitlements and claims have been better recognized and are being supported and empowered by different agencies, especially NGOs. Spread of education, training, vocational skill building facilities, improved access to common property resources, better two-way information flows, and enhanced human and social capital have helped to improve the inclusiveness of the marginal communities – their concerns and participation.

Agriculture in uttarakhand Photo-Rautela CHIThe implications of the above positive development have led to enhanced awareness, improved capacities, and stronger voice to the traditionally voiceless groups enabling mountain communities to feel more empowered to participate in national, sub-national and local initiatives and opportunities. The success of community forestry in Nepal, Van Panchayats in Uttarakhand, community-based shifting cultivation management in NE India and CBNRM-based pasture management in Bhutan, China’s mountainous regions, and northern Pakistan are some of the good examples. Mountain communities through different types of collective actions backed up by enabling external financial, technical, policy and institutional support are protecting and conserving biodiversity, forests, herbal plants, communal irrigation facilities, and run micro hydro, solar and biogas power production units.

The improved roads have provided better access to market centres or in some cases (Uttarakhand) the markets themselves have moved closer to the mountain producers. Strong advocacy for “rights to resources” or struggle for decentralized governance in some mountain areas has also resulted in de-marginalization of mountain communities in some countries. Improved communication facilities have increased the volume of marginalization and flow of remittances, although migration has also led negative phenomenon of feminization of agriculture and increased rural-urban migration.

Unsustainable Extraction of Natural Resources and Increasing Valorisation of Mountain Niche

Traditionally, mountain development planners have perceived mountains as cheap source of industrial and construction raw materials and allowed supply and sourcing agencies to exploit the niche products and services in mountain areas leading to unsustainable extraction and environmental degradation. In many mountain regions, the traditional pattern of development i.e., focused on forest for timber, water for irrigation, minerals for construction and other industries and sites for tourism development, valley settlement for urban development remains general policy of national government agencies. Micro level critical assessments and actions to harness micro scale natural resources remains primarily the domains of local communities and it generally does not get serious attention of the national policy makers and private sectors (see Jodha, 2012).

In some other areas, mountains continues to be limited to nationally sponsored and proposed commercial activities such as tea gardens, hydro power production, and export and tourism promotion zones etc. In the changed contexts, perhaps due to increased information flows, external exposure, improved communication facilities and other transport/access facilities, mountain communities have started building external links and developing collaborative enterprises.  Besides linking micro initiatives with macro-levels, this improved access for mountain ecosystem goods and services has helped in reducing the historical disconnect between macro level perspectives with micro level opportunities and resources.

This trend if we can properly mobilized can convert the mountain-based high value products and services into high economic returns through harnessing complementary and competitive advantages thus helping mountain communities to benefit from diverse range of opportunities such as economic globalization, expanding markets and accessible and affordable knowledge and technologies. Similarly, improved information and skills can help mountain communities to better adapt to the growing climate and socio-economic changes. For example, the micro-level economic opportunities of mountain niches are already being increasingly recognized by macro-level policy makers in several HKH countries. However, they are still undervalued, underpriced and local communities who steward them are inadequately compensated.

Of late, due to combined efforts  of governments and development partners, some  promising initiatives such as trans- boundary arrangements  by different countries to protect/ promote critical biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods development, community based natural resources management, transboundary landscape conservation, cross-border eco-tourism have started to change the narrow approaches of macro level agencies. These are generating a number of participatory, collaborative and co-operative developments, including regional, models that need scaling up and scaling out.

Increasing Realization of Need for Greater Resilience Building and Adaptation Capacity

Highly adaptive nature of mountain communities and their physical hardiness to survive the harsh weather and being resilient to frequent danger of hunger and disasters have been the key positive attributes and perspective identified in the MFP. Over the years, due to greater awareness and information availability, mountain development stake holders have started working in a more co-operative and collaborative manner and meeting new challenges and opportunities that can help improve their disaster preparedness and resilience building capacity although it is obvious that given the scale and pace of changes only community-led efforts will not be adequate and mountain communities will be in need of external financial, institutional and technical support.

A Lady in uttarakhand Photo-Rautela CHIIncentive-based mechanisms designed by global and national level policy makers have started to operate at micro levels. Initiatives such as reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+), payment for ecosystem services (PES), and community-based or integrated watershed management are being implemented in a more participatory manner that have potential to address the persistent problems of mountains including deforestation, land degradation, biodiversity loss, poverty and social and gender inequality through provision of multiple co-benefits such as improvement in livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, and disaster risk reduction. In these initiatives, however, stronger social safeguards remain to be built-in before large scale implementation.

Stronger and Decentralized Advocacy for Mountain Specific Policies and Legislation

The entire process of positive changes in mountain perspectives has also promoted human and social capital development through external inputs such as donor and government finance, technical information flows and institutional capacity building. This has helped especially the mountain based NGOs and CBOs to get better organized and develop more effective, often knowledge and information-based advocacy skills. In some countries new legislation such as Rights to Information (RTI) has helped them in this process.

Although these developments have helped mountain people feel empowered, these are still grossly inadequate to face the growing challenges brought about by global phenomena such as climate change and globalization which the vulnerable mountain communities have still not well comprehended. Therefore while a process of de-marginalization of mountain communities and gradual influencing of national policy making and  planning process is moving forward, promoting and supporting mountain specific and mountain people sensitive  development  interventions  is still not a mainstream national policy.

There is no guarantee that ever changing and fragile mountain ecosystems and people will have robust and unalienable national policy and legislative commitment and constitutional guarantee (for example as India’s 6th schedule states) to receive mountain specific financial, technical, and institutional attention, response, and interventions whenever, the above mentioned specifities are disturbed beyond their normal or projected course of scenarios meaning that any externally driven impacts will warrant external assistance and correction to keep the mountain communities secure and resilient form the forces of climate  and global changes. These broader mountain specific policies and legislative perspectives should be developed that can replace the traditional generalized, narrow and top down intervention models and approaches.

This approach I argue, might lead to a more mountain focused, socially inclusive and gender sensitive development in line with the philosophy of SMD. The new possibilities rooted in new approaches relating to protection and harnessing of niche and other natural resources based opportunities and mitigation of natural hazards and risks will have potential to encourage better complementarities and synergy between bottom up and top down development approaches, institutionalize multistakeholder and participatory development processes and promote scaled-up collective actions on situation specific  diversified opportunities, which in the past generally escaped the attention of national level decision makers. It may also help in sharing the costs and benefits of economic globalization, climate change adaptation, environmental mainstreaming with social safeguards against unequal development opportunities, high intervention/management costs and inequitable economic cum environmental dividends between upstream and downstream communities.


To sum up, there is a need to relook, reorient, rethink and develop a more dynamic, operational, resilient mountain perspective framework (MFP) that can be used as a mountain specific policy instrument by national, sub-national, and local policy and decision makers as well as have greater ownership and buy-ins of not only national policy makers but also of civil society organizations, community-based organizations and environmentalists. The revised MFP should be able to be applied to design and implement tailor made solution to suit each country’s different national situations and capabilities. This approach together with other relevant and suitable development approaches perhaps will help mountain countries achieve the elusive goals of sustainable mountain development.

Discussion thread>>


  1. Jodha, N. S. (1992). Mountain perspective and sustainability: A framework for development strategies In: Sustainable mountain agriculture, ( ): 42-82 pp. Go to: ttp://;
  2. Jodha, N.S. (2012). Mountain Perspective Framework: Relevance in Post Rio+20 Period; ICIMOD’s Internal Discussion (unpublished) paper


Author: Dr. Madhav Karki wrote this article for Climate Himalaya’s Expert Speak column. Dr. Karki worked as Deputy Director General (2005 to 2012) at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) at Kathmandu, Nepal, is now associated as Senior Research Faculty with ISET-Nepal. Email:


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