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The increase in world population means that pressures on land will continue to be acute, particularly in Africa and Asia. The increased needs for food and other agricultural products must be met mainly by raising and sustaining crop and livestock yields and by more intensive land use. This has to be accompanied by more efficient harvesting and processing of products so as to reduce post-production losses. However, current projections also assume an expansion of the arable area in developing countries, although at half the rate of the previous 30 years (FAO 2001). By 2030, FAO estimates suggest that an additional 57 million ha will be brought into cultivation in Africa, and 41 million ha in Latin America, increases of 25 per cent and 20 per cent respectively (FAO 2001). This expansion must necessarily come either from further conversion of forest and woodland, or by bringing into cultivation fragile areas of the semi-arid zone, both of which raise serious environmental concerns.

Meeting these challenges will stretch the limited resources currently allocated to agricultural research and development, and may call for reallocation of the scarce funding available. It will, in addition, require good governance, land and soil policies, and continued efforts to achieve sustainable use of land resources. A prerequisite is the adequate support by governments for national land resource institutions, and for building up the capacities of land resource planners, farmers and managers at local and national levels. Maintenance or improvement of the productive potential of land resources to meet the needs of present and future populations, while at the same time sustaining the vital ecosystem functions and other multiple uses of land, is a fundamental requirement for sustainability.

Land and the International Year of Mountains: importance of the mountain commons

Litter on a mountainside in China

Source: UNEP, Zhe Hao, Still Pictures

Mountains can provide crucial resources for social and economic development. Mountain commons provide essential local and downstream environmental products and services such as freshwater supplies, irrigation, hydropower, flood control, biodiversity conservation and tourism. However, with few exceptions, mountain commons are ecologically under-managed and suffer from the classic 'commons syndrome': while all seek to benefit, stakeholders lack coordination, incentives and instruments for joint care.

Satellite imagery shows significant loss of mountain forests and other vegetative cover over the past 20 years. The causes are often inappropriate agriculture and livestock developments in fragile areas. Downstream, poor watershed management causes siltation of rivers and reservoirs, and allows natural disasters to take an unprecedented toll as roads, bridges and sometimes entire communities are washed away.

Whenever mountain ecosystems are degraded by overexploitation, costs to businesses and communities are high. As vegetation is removed, aquifers and wells run drier. Siltation reduces the sustainability of hydropower and irrigation reservoirs. Agricultural run-off spoils the purity of renewable sources of freshwater. Fisheries suffer and urban water supplies dwindle in the dry season. In deforested mountain ranges, floods may become uncontrollable after heavy rain. They cause global damage of tens of billions of dollars every year.

Businesses stand to benefit from joining hands, and from shaping common action programmes to safeguard mountain ecosystems. This is a longterm challenge, and will require a measure of social responsibility and commitment beyond customary business horizons. Local, long-term, strategic private-public partnerships could begin to address and reverse patterns of degradation. In the same way that water-user associations are necessary in downstream water and irrigation management, there is a need for mountainstakeholder associations. Region-by-region, these would need to equip themselves with supporting institutional, legal, economic and monitoring instruments.

The International Year of Mountains 2002 (IYM) could inspire such processes: it can draw attention to issues and opportunities; it can help network stakeholders across sectoral and company boundaries, it can promote conducive policy and incentive instruments. The business community could now build on recent work under the global water partnership agenda. The Water and Mountain Commons agenda, developed jointly by the Earth3000 NGO and UNEP's Mountain Programme, could become a tangible contribution to IYM. During the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit, the main concluding event of IYM, a special Mountain Marketplace facility will be established to promote private-public partnerships and mountain stakeholders' associations, involving upstream and downstream communities.