Knowledge for sustainable development in mountains

Tourism offers an economic opportunity in the Ethiopian Highlands. Photo: Jürg Krauer


Worldwide, about 915 million people live in mountain areas. Mountain ecosystems provide essential goods and services such as freshwater, biodiversity, and cultural values to people living in mountains and in the adjacent lowlands. Mountains thus play a vital role for global sustainable development.

At the same time, mountain communities face considerable challenges in securing sustainable livelihoods in these regions, which are often fragile and hazard-prone. Despite many efforts to support mountain communities, and improve understanding about their challenges, mountain-specific knowledge has remained fragmented and scattered, and mountain areas have continued to be marginalized in policy and decision-making at the global, national, and subnational levels.

Sharing of research insights

The project “Knowledge Management for Sustainable Development in Mountains” aimed to promote the cause of mountain communities on international research and development agendas, and to inform development projects and initiatives through sharing of research insights, validated experiences, and good practices.

Thus, the project’s overall goal was to contribute to sustainable and more equitable development in mountain regions worldwide, considering socially disadvantaged groups such as women and ethnic minorities.

The project has been supporting the international Journal Mountain Research and Development, the development of several volumes of the Sustainable Mountain Development Series and three Issue Briefs on Sustainable Mountain Development (see list of publications below).

Latest publication: Vibrant mountain communities


Successful regional mountain development is rooted in communities’ culture and skills, responds to their needs, and unlocks their potentials and those of their region. Such regional efforts focus on synergies and bring together actors from different sectors and governance levels. A diversified network of equal exchange between farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, civil society organizations and external actors helps to develop vibrant communities and strengthen their resilience.

This new volume of the Sustainable Mountain Development Series presents ten good practices, many of them backed through long-term engagement by the Austrian Development Agency. They show how inclusive planning and decision-making, equitable access to quality public services, and connecting actors to spark innovation can act as levers for sustainable change towards mountain people’s regional visions if targeted policy interventions provide an enabling framework:

1) Bottom-up land use planning for equitable rural development in Laos

Photo: K.Kamp

In the uplands of Laos, high poverty and insecure land tenure prevail. At the same time, traditional agriculture is being rapidly transformed into large-scale operations for commodity production. The participatory land use planning approach developed by The Agro-Biodiversity Initiative (TABI) lays the foundations for economic development that both benefits family farmers and protects the environment.

Bottom-up land use planning (PDF, 1.4 MB)

2) Scenarios to steer and support development of mountain regions in Albania

Photo: O.Haub

Creating development scenarios was key to addressing increasing disparities in northern Albania’s mountainous Shkodra county. The scenarios helped to identify development potentials and initiate promising pilot projects towards sustainable and balanced socio-economic development. The approach was scaled up and incorporated into Albania’s upcoming Regional Development Policy (2021–27).

Scenarios to steer development (PDF, 1.4 MB)

3) Citizen engagement for better public services in Ethiopia

Photo: ESAP

The Ethiopia Social Accountability Program (ESAP) has set in motion a new way of engagement between citizens and public officials to improve the delivery of basic services that are crucial for local socio-economic development. This is particularly important in the Ethiopian Highlands, where basic services have been inadequate and have not met people’s specific needs.

Citizen engagement for better public services (PDF, 1.4 MB)

4) Modernized administrative services for Armenian citizens

Photo: Good Gov. for Local Development

Armenia, a mountainous country, has been consolidating its previously fragmented municipal landscape. Newly established “Citizen Offices” serve as municipal operation hubs and are equipped with a Municipal Management Information System. As a result, nearly half of the country’s population outside Yerevan can now benefit from modernized, transparent, and efficient access to municipal administrative services.

Modernized administrative services (PDF, 1.3 MB)

5) Addressing health care shortages through social innovations in the Bernese Oberland

Photo: Simmentaler Zeitung

Doctors and medical support are in short supply in Swiss mountain regions. Four examples show how social innovations can address the widening gap in health care service provision. These novel forms of cooperation among local actors from the public, private, and non-profit sectors respond to an urgent need and contribute to regional development in the longer term.

Addressing health care shortages (PDF, 1.4 MB)

6) Marketing native crops to improve rural Andean livelihoods

Photo: S. de Haan

Native potatoes are important in livelihood strategies for most poor Andean families. A systems-oriented approach for fostering pro-poor development in value chains has helped to identify business opportunities, facilitate collaboration among value chain actors, and enhance information flows to increase competitiveness.

Marketing native crops (PDF, 1.5 MB)

7) Linking actors to promote sustainable development in rural areas: Grosses Walsertal

Photo: N. Unthan

The Grosses Walsertal Biosphere Reserve in Austria has gained increasing attention as a model region for sustainable development. Its objectives are to strengthen cooperation between previously isolated rural actors. Working together, municipalities, local businesses, and civil society initiatives can develop concerted responses to pressing issues such as nature conservation and rural migration.

Linking actors to promote sustainable development (PDF, 2.4 MB)

8) Transboundary cooperation for mountain tourism in the Kangchenjunga Landscape

Photo: N. Chettri

The Kangchenjunga Landscape has huge potential for tourism. A transboundary initiative is investing in redefining the opportunities that tourism can provide for marginalized rural communities. Measures include jointly developing unique products that reflect the shared heritage of Bhutan, India, and Nepal, as well as engaging in landscape conservation at the nexus of science, policy, and practice.

Transboundary cooperation for mountain tourism (PDF, 1.3 MB)

9) From mountain law to effective national strategy in Georgia

Photo: M. Kuraschvili

Almost half of all settlements of Georgia are located in high mountain areas. However, only nine percent of the country’s 3.5 million people live there. Highlander communities face challenges related to accessibility, depopulation, and a lack of public services and amenities. A four-year Strategy for Development of High Mountain Settlements of Georgia offers a systemic approach to tackle these challenges.

From mountain law to national strategy (PDF, 1.3 MB)

10) The Aosta Valley’s smart specialization strategy

Photo: G. Allheilig

The European Commission’s efforts to support lagging regions through Smart Specialization Strategies since 2014 have proven effective also in different mountain regions. In Italy’s Aosta Valley, local actors have agreed on strategic development priorities. They have created new organizational structures to promote synergies between technological innovation and socio-economic development.

Aosta Valley's Smart Spezialization Strategy (PDF, 1.4 MB)

Messages for policymakers

Photo: A. Treadway / ICIMOD

Concerted efforts by national policymakers, actors, and donors towards effective territorial governance, adequate and innovative funding, and capacity development enable 1) inclusive regional planning and decision-making, 2) equal access to quality public services, and 3) collaborations among actors to spark innovations. These three levers can unlock the potential of mountain regions to enhance the well-being of all, foster sustainable and inclusive economies, and strengthen the resilience of mountain communities and ecosystems.

Messages for policymakers (PDF, 1.2 MB)


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