Farming in mountain areas (2)

The second session on “Farming in Mountain Regions” focused in greater detail on family and traditional farming systems, as part of sustainable mountain development.

Jan Salick, ethnobotanist, presented about traditional Himalayan agriculture under conditions of climate change. Discussion of different participatory methods was offered, including use of mapping, calendars, plant cards, photo voice and repeat photography to help us learn how ‘they’ view the world. Local perceptions about climate, and hard data, sometimes may conflict; but for the most part they coincide – for example, in regard to rising temperature, increasing precipitation and especially variability (unpredictability) of precipitation, and also observable glacial retreat, glacial lake formation and outbursts. Culture and spirituality also may adapt to climate change in various ways. Particularly noteworthy is the lack of voice of indigenous communities in international dialogues including climate change policy. Such communities are at the forefront of climate change, especially in mountain areas: they perceive and are impacted by and need to adapt to climate change, yet they rarely have opportunity to be heard.

Access to information also can be a major constraint for many communities to adapt to changes, whether this be globalization or climate change. Aline Rosset presented about a novel project in Kyrgyzstan, in which knowledge is made available through a mobile digital library known as eBilim. Many people, especially women, are noted to be with interest to learn more about new agricultural techniques or approaches. The project (eBilim) is run within the Mountain Societies Research Institute of the University of Central Asia. The goal is to improve access to knowledge and information in remote mountain communities, and to learn about information needs and priorities in villages. The vehicle and project also help to create a database of relevant information and to trial new (digital) technologies. Farming is regularly mentioned as a main topic for information needs, along with teaching and education. There is also high interest in research findings, if presented in understandable formats. A second example about provision/access of information is a citizen science-based environmental education curriculum development project for rural schools in Naryn province of Kyrgyzstan. In this case, the participatory development of resources for teachers on water monitoring is promoted. Environmental data is collected through citizen science. For working with schools, the motivation of the teachers is critical. Main stakeholders include students from 10 schools, local and regional scientists, local associations and activists, and in the next phase also national policy makers. Some challenges remain, including data quality and limited connectivity (internet access) in the project area, however initial successes include the high motivation and creativity of teachers and great interest from a variety of stakeholders.

A presentation about family level entreprises was given by Saithong Phommavong, focused on the feminization of agricultural labour in Lao PDR. More women by far are engaged in such labour in Laos, yet they face pressures of discrimination and inequality in pay when engaged through temporary (vs permanent) employment. Gender power relation continue in fields of decision making, access to resources, control of income, leadership in community, time allocation, etc. In Laos, at national level 74 percent of employment is with women. ‘Research for development’ methods were employed including mapping, stakeholder consultation, focus groups, thematic analysis and narrative methods. Coffee production-related employment was discussed. The livelihood impact of coffee production has included job creation, with priority for women labor, and also income generation opportunities for low education and low skilled labour. Food security is thus improved; but there is still a mismatch between labor legislation on minimum wage (which is not recognized in this context). Concluding remarks were made in regard to a globalized market economy being a leading factor in shifting employment patterns, role of commercial agriculture in regard to employment for women, and problems in relation to regulations and practices about women’s wages.

The final presentation in this second session about farming systems in mountain areas was provided by Sebastian Eiter, focused on summer farming landscapes in Norway. In many ways, much of the rural landscape is considered as a post-farming landscape, with a large portion of farms now abandoned, or re-oriented toward tourism. Landscape values include low-input agricultural production, biodiversity (semi-natural vegetation), cultural heritage, and outdoor recreation. Around 50,000 farms were registered in 1850, where now (2014) only 963 mountain summer farms requested/received subsidies.

For each randomly selected site in the country (c. 300 sites), much descriptive data was gathered. Only 4% of farms currently have milk production as core activity; and 70% are abandoned or used for tourism purposes only. There is a time lag to the succession of now semi-natural vegetation, following abandonment. Most new buildings on summer farms are constructed for non-farming purposes, mostly for leisure (accommodation), and more buildings are being built in scenic areas; cf. tourism/recreation development. The purpose of collecting such data is to serve as reference for future case studies and to understand/direct future regional planning. This rich dataset also will help to determine what features of rural farms are most likely to lead to successful farms, i.e. in connection with milk production. Project findings also will lead into policy-level dialogues and agri-environmental decision making. Household summer farms, with local pastoralism, are still highly valued in the Norwegian rural landscape and contribute to national food production plans and policies.

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