Social change in mountains: How does it happen?

Some thoughts towards a synthesis from the session “Social change in mountains: How does it happen?”

The talks can be divided into three different categories:

Speakers a) described and brought to public attention existing but often invisible social inequalities due to ongoing changes, b) used observations to challenge conceptions of social structures, and c) looked into effectiveness of tools meant to bring about social change,

In the first category of descriptive analysis we heard the presentation Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP): From Knowledge to Adaptation Action by Björn Alfthan, GRID-Arendal, Norway. HICAP is directed towards the Hindu Kush Himalayas region, a huge area with 210 millions inhabitants, and spans a broad range of topics. An interesting aspect which is worth to be highlighted is a case study on the gender aspect of climate change effects and adaptation.

Agriculture in Nepal is undergoing a feminisation. 70% of all women and 56% of all men are involved in agriculture. A high outmigration rate of men exacerbates the imbalance. At the same time only 8-10% of the women have ownership of the land. Local climate-related observations reveal that: rainfall patterns are becoming more unpredictable, more intense and shorter in duration; longer periods of drought are becoming more common; and that water sources are drying up & the flow of water has been reduced in many areas.

Women have an important role in adapting their agricultural practices to these trends, but at the same time, they are being alienated from vital adaptive knowledge as they are not able to grab opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills. The quantity and quality of the participation of women in decision-making bodies is decreasing; fewer women have the time to participate and when they do participate, they are not always well informed and do not have time to network and follow up on issues. HICAP thus aims at strengthening women’s capacity to adapt.


The work of Matthew Klick, University of Denver; Arctic and Mountain Regions Development Institute, USA: Immigration as Structural Violence in Rural Rocky Mountain (USA) Communities: A Study in Public Health and Population Dynamics with Implications for Vulnerability, looked at the situation of immigrant and mostly Latino community in comparison to the long-established non-Latino population in Leadville, CO, US. The micro and macro determinants he established have a value beyond the specific case of Leadville. On the micro level his list includes: financial insecurity with consequenes for food, housing and heating (with up to one third of household incomes spent on heating!), the immigration status, language barriers, the lack of health insurance, the long distance commuting. The macro-determinants include local government finances, weak local services, the absence of formal Latino leadership, no regional governance.

The study makes some suggestions for the way forwared: community-based interventions such a school-based health clinics or informal governance within the Latino community such as church activities. The question remains if these small-scale measures can properly address the imbalance of these parallel societies.


Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Peru, studied Narratives of change and visions for the future among smallholders in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. The author postulates that «Development» must take into account perceptions and visions of local actor. She thus aimed at understanding the processes of change that rural Andean communities are currently undergoing as perceived and interpreted by Quechua-speaking smallholders. The observed changes covered biodiversity, climate, agricultural production, services and infrastructures, health, lifestyles and values. They can be expressed as follows. “Nowadays, people are not healthy and strong anymore, because the Pachamama [Mother Earth] is tired, the products are tired. For this reason we the young people look as if we were old. The product does not have strength anymore” (young man, Waca Playa). It is these perceptions of changes that have to feed into any analysis of change and into any adaptation program.


Fabio Azzolin, Università di Genova, Italy , presented this study on The blue gold of Parón lake: Relevance of Social Capital in the development of a socio-environmental Conflict around Water management in a micro basin in the Andes region. In 2008, the conflict around water management of the Parón Andean lake basin was considerably aggravated. The hydroelectric installation, granted to Duke Energy company, was in fact occupied by Cruz de Mayoa Peruvian Andean rural community. This nonviolent conflict, after several years of impasse, has seen the recent introduction of various negotiating tables between Cruz de Mayo, Duke Energy, CEAS (a Peruvian catholic organization), local and state institutions. Our research focuses on social factors that have addressed the conflict towards a process of institutionalization, as well as on social facets, which have resulted in the community.


Andreas Benz, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, developed new conceptional frameworks based on this case study Migration, translocality and mountain development – insights from Gojal, northern Pakistan.

Gojal is a remote, high-mountain border region in northern Pakistan, inhabited by about 20,000 people of Nizari Ismaili faith. The harsh and arid climate of the region allows only single-cropping glacier-fed irrigated agriculture on small parcels clustered around the settlement oasis which are scattered along the valley bottoms. Nevertheless Gojal is one of the leading regions of rural development in Pakistan and it is often mentioned by development experts as a shining example of successful mountain development!

Common answers such as roads, development interventions by the Pakistani state, international donor money and development assistance and non-governmental development interventions fall short of reality. The author argues for extending the list by adding the factors of migration and translocality. Migration with a strong emphasis on education lead to an upward spiral of rising education levels In the long run, extra-local investments in education have contributed more to mountain development and the wellbeing of the Gojalis than local investments. A substantial part of mountain development is actually realized outside mountain regions. In order to understand change and development in the mountain regions, we have to look far beyond the mountain regions.

Currently about 80% of the households in Gojal are multi-local, with an average of every third household member being an absent migrant but still closely interconnected though strong social ties and exchange flows. The author introduces the concept of a “Translocalization of households and livelihoods” in order to understand the perceived


Márta Vetier, Central European University, Hungary
, evaluates the effectiveness of a treaty as a tool to induce social change: Sustainable development in the Carpathian Mountains – contributions of the Carpathian Convention.

The Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians (Carpathian Convention) was adopted by the seven Carpathian countries in 2003. Although the text of the Convention and its protocols set out grand aims and specify concrete actions to be taken, the actual implementation and effectiveness of the agreement is not so clear. Does the Carpathian Convention lead to strategic action or is it only a project fair? The author is interested in how the convention is driving the actors towards collaboration. Can the convention inspire collaborative governance in order to protect transboundary ecosystems? The preliminary results of the social network analysis show that WWF and UNEP still are the key leaders – but the author asks: are these the right actors? They were the original entities driving the initiative, and there is a need hand over ownership. This is key to the success of the convention



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