Opportunities in Mountain Environments Explored at Mountains 2018


The city of Nova Friburgo, in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted Mountains 2018, 10-14 December, with debates on topics ranging from agricultural production to ecological tourism and climate change, culminating in the creation of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Research in Mountain Environments.

“Like Lumont Lusofonia Mountain Research Network, the goal is to strengthen research in the area and set goals to improve people's lives, with sustainability,” says Embrapa researcher Adriana Aquino, chair of the Mountains 2018 organizing commission. According to her, the network will be an instrument to encourage the creation of government programs and promote joint research between institutions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Discussions taking place at Mountains 2018. Image credit: Fernando Gregio.

A highlight of Mountains 2018 was the presentation of the Letter of Nova Friburgo, a participant-led initiative to alert society and government of the importance of actions and policies directed towards mountain environments. “Mountains are not only important to the people who live in them. Those who live in the vicinity, for example, need the water they provide,” says Aquino.

The need to implement specific public policies was one of the most important factors for the speakers and organizers of the event. “Brazil, for example, has 16 percent of its territory in areas of 600 meters or more in altitude. We are signatories to several important documents, and we don’t have public policies for mountains. We hope to contribute to the creation of norms that differentiate the use of flat environments from other mountainous ones,” says Aquino.

Sustainability, payment for environmental services, and eco-tourism
Mônica Amorim, professor at the Federal University of Ceará, also in Brazil, believes that the event will play an important role in showing the importance of mountain regions. “In many countries, mountains are considered special places. In China there are mountains considered sacred. In North America and other countries in Asia, people have a special respect for them. Here in South America we are beginning to develop this concept. In this context, this meeting had a particular importance for raising awareness among governments, legislators, and society at large of the importance of this environment.”

The possibilities that these areas offer to communities are strengthened when governmental institutions, associations, and cooperatives act to promote sustainability and responsible tourism. Payment for environmental services, for example, is one of the tools that has been successfully implemented in recent experiences in the mountainous regions of the Atlantic Forest and the Paraíba do Sul River Basin, between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “We need to value human and environmental capital to effectively have environmental benefits,” says biologist Gilberto Pereira, executive coordinator of the Atlantic Forest Connection Project.

Another perspective is to encourage the sustainable production of handcrafted, locally manufactured goods, as highlighted by the executive director of the ProYungas Foundation of Argentina, Sebastián Malizia: “Our focus is on environmentally and socially responsible production. The principles are working sustainably, with respect for the rights of the community, and conserving biodiversity.”

Besides that, mountains have attracted more and more visitors from all over the world - and reconciling this with environmental preservation and rural production is a challenge. But, according to experts, it is possible. “Having visitors in these spaces is not antagonistic to conservation. It is necessary to change that vision and understand that these activities can go together,” says climber Kika Bradford, president of the Brazilian Confederation of Mountaineering and Climbing.

One option are long-distance trails. According to the general coordinator of Public Use and Business of the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation in Brazil, Pedro Menezes, this type of route ensures that the public use of the environment is an inalienable right of society, generates employment, and still stimulates environmental conservation.

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Professor Martin Price at Mountains 2018. Image credit: Liliane Bello

Climate change and mountains
Another challenge that is even greater in mountainous regions is adaptation to climate change. According to Professor Martin Price from University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland, climate changes are intensifying and are responsible for the reduction of glaciers, the migration of plant species to higher sites, the risk of extinction of amphibians, the increase in the number of landslides, and the increase of periods of drought and disease incidence.

After successive environmental tragedies involving heavy rains in mountainous regions, it is clear that mapping and risk management are increasingly important tools to anticipate situations and prevent new disasters. “We have been working with researches to understand how mass movements are applied and how to transfer knowledge to local communities. We are also seeking integration between the University and communities at risk,” says Professor Leonardo Freitas of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

According to him, there is a tendency for disasters in mountainous areas to occur along the coast in Brazil. This is due in particular to local climate and relief conditions, with very steep slopes. Geographer Pedro Higgens, technical advisor to the Environment Department of Nova Friburgo - a city that was severely affected by rains and landslides in 2011 - also cited the relief and latitude characteristics of the city as causing specific climate dynamics. “Since then, improvements have been made to radar networks, as well as the installation of rain gauges in hazardous areas and warning devices for communities. Now we are participating in a program called Gides, the goal of which is to integrate the management of risks in natural disasters, and we are acting mainly in the axis of risk mapping for mass gravitational movements,” he reports.

Climate change also affects mountain populations in other ways, besides increasing the chances of disasters. This is what researcher Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel, from the Centre for Development and Environment and the World Agroforestry Centre in Peru, says. According to her, the Peruvian Andes are very vulnerable and have been suffering from rising temperatures, increased melting of glaciers, and, at the same time, poverty and dependence on natural resources on the part of the communities there. “These are factors that increase the challenges of facing climate change,” she says.

Research networks
The study of themes related to mountain environments and their diversities and challenges is the goal of the Lumont Network (Mountain Research Network of Lusofonia), which was presented at the end of the event and which was the inspiration for the creation of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Research in Mountain Environments. Created at Mountains 2016, Lumont aims to promote the circulation and sharing of information between researchers and institutions dedicated to mountain issues in countries that have Portuguese as their official language - Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, and East Timor.

According to Professor João Carlos Azevedo, of the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança in Portugal, Lumont has been working informally, but it is intended to formalize the network of participating institutions and create an internal structure of governance. “One of our weaknesses today is that there is no definite strategic orientation for the network. We need to create this internal governance structure and seek legitimacy,” he points out.

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Photo credit: Liliane Bello

Luís Felipe César, director of the organization Crescente Fertil and one of the organizers of Mountains 2018, says that the event exceeded expectations, both in terms of the number of participants and the diversity and quality of debates, and also because of the formalization of documents such as Carta de Nova Friburgo and Latin American and Caribbean Network for Research in Mountain Environments. “These are tools that can effectively contribute to the construction of public policies, as they represent the high technical quality of the event, having been signed by relevant institutions in their areas of activity in several countries,” he says.

However, he believes that these documents will only fulfill their objectives if they are actually used by all who signed them and also by those who agree with their content. “It will be up to us to seek out spaces for awareness and effective fieldwork, so that policies can be built and we can advance conservation and environmental sustainability for the mountains,” he adds.

For Martin Price, chairman of the Mountains 2018 scientific committee, scientific meetings are fundamental for the advancement of research and for the consolidation of these local and global networks. “It is very special to be able to collaborate with the organization of this scientific conference, which seeks international cooperation for sustainable development in mountain regions. We are gathered here, talking and exchanging ideas – and it makes all the difference.”

About Mountains 2018
Mountains 2018 was an event organized by Embrapa, Crescente Fértil, Mountain Research Center, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Federal University of Ceará, Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Unesco, Mountain Partnership, and University of Highlands and Islands. This was the second edition of the meeting - the first took place in 2016 in Bragança, Portugal.

Written by Liliane Bello, Journalist / Embrapa


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