Improving rural livelihoods and alleviating poverty in mountain communities pose the most critical development challenge in the HKH. The region’s rural people live in remote and environmentally harsh areas with poor social and physical infrastructures and unfavourable market conditions. Traditional subsistence smallholder farming and migratory pastoral livelihoods in these mountain regions face increasing challenges from the impacts of climate change, human-animal conflicts, increased natural disasters, and the degradation of forests and rangelands. In addition, poor infrastructure, limited access to water and energy, poor market linkages, and limited know-how on the development of marketable products and post-harvest management threaten the sustainability of mountain agriculture and traditional rural livelihoods. Together, these factors contribute to a gradual decline in the productive labour force and an increase in the feminization of labour in the farming sector, eroding traditional knowledge and leading to agricultural land being left fallow. 

Managing such transformations requires innovative approaches and strategies for sustainable livelihoods. Given their relatively small and scattered populations, mountain communities often go unheard in political and policy discourse. Despite significant progress, technological advancement, and communications developments in lowland areas, economic growth in the South Asian region has not translated into inclusive livelihood opportunities for the rural poor in the HKH. Poverty, vulnerability, and inequality are widespread, and access to resources and services and gainful employment opportunities are limited. An essential question is how poverty, gender, vulnerability, social inequality, and livelihood insecurity in the mountains can be better understood and addressed.

In the next five years we will focus on the following actions: 

  • Developing skills for generating data and developing knowledge about evolving livelihoods, the drivers of change (demographic, socioeconomic, climatic, environmental), their impacts on mountain poverty and social and gender structures, and emerging challenges and opportunities for livelihood enhancement; 
  • Strengthening skills for mountain livelihood opportunities, identifying innovative options, strategies and practices, and promoting mountain niche products and services for facilitating effective adaptation and building resilience, particularly for marginalised people and communities; 
  • Developing staff and partner capacity to identify and support non-farm employment opportunities to facilitate transitions from farm to non-farm sectors for rural women and youth to reduce vulnerabilities, enhance prosperity, and realize the aspiration of rural youth by focusing on market-led approaches, including branding and certification of mountain products; 
  • Building capacity for supporting demand-driven skills to enhance employability and promote occupational mobility of the rural poor—both women and men—to reap benefits accruing from urban-centric growth processes; 
  • Building staff capacity to engage with the private sector to harness business opportunities for entrepreneurial youth to generate market-driven employment opportunities; 
  • Supporting skills for equitable and inclusive financial services to the poor, including harnessing remittances for local development; 
  • Building staff capacity on facilitating clean energy access to rural poor for sustainable livelihoods promotion focusing on decentralised renewable energy options; and 
  • Supporting staff skills for transitioning to resource efficient and low carbon development paths by unlocking opportunities for green and inclusive growth through cutting-edge research and holistic action for innovative solutions. 


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