A contribution from mountain areas to the International Year of Soils 2015

Understanding Mountain Soils

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Acronyms and abbreviations




Mountain soils and ecosystem services

Agroforestry generates multiple ecosystem services on hillsides of Central America

Sustainable mountain ecosystem results from participatory community planning: a story from the Syrian Arab Republic

Alpine soils and forests: securing ecosystem services in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan

Pedodiversity and ecosystem services of mountain soils in Southwestern Europe


Mountain soils and agriculture

Pastoralists, mountains and soils

Sustainable soil management options in the Nepalese mountains

Tackling soil erosion with nuclear techniques in Viet Nam

Oak and pine forests soil in the Western Himalayan region of India

Addressing the knowledge gap on mountain soils


Mountain soils and healthy food production

Family coffee farmers improve mountain soils

Thyme for Port-au-Prince

Beles – from an invasive plant to a blessing

Crop-Nu – a phone app to calculate crop nutrient requirements


Soil variability in mountain areas

Mountain pasture soils and plant species richness in the Austrian Alps

Peatlands and organic soils

High-elevation soils in the Central Apennines

Soil genesis in recently deglaciated areas


Mountain soils and human activities

Mountain soils and human activities

Winter sports: the influence of ski piste construction and management on soil and plant characteristics

Heavy metals pollution


Mountain soils and threats

Rehabilitating red soils in the Nepalese Himalayas

Effects of land-use changes on soil properties: volcano watershed in Quito, Ecuador

Land reclamation by agave forestry with native species in the mountains of Michoacan state

Turning rocks into soils from the Ecuadorian Andes to the Mexican transvolcanic sierra


Mountain soils and climate change

Carbon stocks in oceanic alpine landscapes

Lesotho mountain wetlands potential for carbon storage

Forest expansion on grassland affects soil carbon protection

Promoting soil health and productivity in Eastern Arc mountain ecosystems through collaboration and networks


Mountain soils and cultural heritage

Status and potential use of medicinal plants in the Pamir region of Tajik and Afghan Badakhshan

Sustainable indigenous hill agriculture practices to conserve mountain soils and improve crop yields in Garhwal

Shifting cultivation: soil fertility and food security issues in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh


Conclusions and way forward




References and further Reading





Mountain soils have long performed a host of vital ecosystem services that help to ensure food security and nutrition to 900 million mountain people around the world and benefit billions more living downstream.


Soils are the basis for healthy food production. They help people to mitigate and adapt to climate change by playing a key role in the carbon cycle and in water management, improving resilience to floods and droughts. Mountain soils, which vary greatly and are by their nature fragile, host 25 percent of terrestrial biodiversity including agro-biodiversity, crucial gene pools for locally adapted crops and livestock.


Soil is a fragile resource that needs time to regenerate. Every year, an estimated 12 million ha are lost through soil degradation. Mountain soils are particularly susceptible to climate change, deforestation, unsustainable farming practices and resource extraction methods that affect their fertility and trigger land degradation, desertification and disasters such as floods and landslides.


For mountain peoples this is a harsh reality that they face every day. Many mountain peoples – in ranges including the Himalayas and Andes as well as the Elburz Mountains and the Fouta Djallon Highlands – are family farmers who live by subsistence agriculture and often have poor access to basic infrastructure, health services, roads, transport and markets.


Local communities in mountain areas serve as the custodians of natural resources, including their soil. Over generations, living in their particular high-risk environments, they have developed solutions and techniques, indigenous practices, knowledge and sustainable soil management approaches that shape and protect ecosystems that ultimately provide water for at least half the world’s population. Local and more recent knowledge can be successfully integrated, as is shown by terracing for rice production in Asia and agroforestry for cereal production in Latin America.


This publication intends to raise awareness of the global importance of mountain soils in providing critical ecosystem services and the need for their sustainable management. Building sustainable soil management capacity, promoting inclusive policies and governance, and investing in soil research and soil information systems are all necessary to ensure healthy soils for sustainable production systems that can improve the livelihoods of mountain peoples and, indirectly, everyone else as well.


To mark the International Year of Soils 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, the Global Soil Partnership and the University of Turin have jointly issued this publication. Understanding Mountain Soils has been produced with in-kind contributions by Mountain Partnership members, non-governmental organizations, research institutes and universities in a concerted effort to bring key issues to the fore.


In 2015, the year in which the UN Sustainable Development Goals are being adopted, it is our aspiration to highlight how, through the provision of crucial ecosystem services, mountain soils can contribute to ensure overall sustainable development, reaching far beyond the peaks and deep into the surrounding lowlands.


The following chapters, with specific case studies, showcase the diversity of soil management approaches and the solutions that sustainable mountain management can provide.


Jose Graziano da Silva


* Complete document in PDF

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