How does a shift from traditional to modern methods of cultivation affect mountains?

Traditional methods of farming in the mountains involve pastoral farming and growing crops that are native to the region. One of the most popular methods of farming in highlands is called terrace farming. In this method, the hillside is carved into a series of broad steps to grow crops. These steps prevent soil and water runoff and maintain fertility and irrigation in the farm.

These farms were worked in harmony with nature. However, traditional farming requires a lot of manpower and the yield is not enough to be sold commercially. As a result of this, modern farming practices are taking over traditional methods. Terrace farming has given way to direct farming on slopes, which leads to greater soil erosion.

The increased production of cash crops is wiping out native crops from many regions. Chemical pesticides are being used which kill many beneficial species along with the pests. The result of this is that plant diversity is decreasing and many species are becoming extinct. Long term sustainability is being sacrificed for short term gains.       

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Are global warming and war serious threats for mountains?

Due to global warming glaciers are melting at an alarming rate all around the world. Glaciers are now losing 31 per cent more snow and ice per year than they did 15 years ago. This leads to greater ice melt runoff in the mountains. Many glacial lakes in the Himalayas are in danger of breaching their natural barriers and causing catastrophic floods, as we have already witnessed in Kedarnath in 2013 when a melting glacier and heavy rainfall led to thousands being washed away. Such events also lead to mass destruction of forest habitats.

Unfortunately there has also been an increase in civil wars in the past decades. When insurgents use mountains as a base for their operations, retaliation and crossfire may lead to heavy shelling and damage to the environment.

A United Nations report calculates that 67 per cent of Africa’s mountainous regions have been affected by violent human conflict. Additionally some highlands have become bases for narcotic production, which leads to armed conflicts and degradation of the environment.

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Are our mountains under threat from development projects?

Mountain ranges all over the world are facing various threats due to logging, farming, global warming and excessive tourism.

To add to this, ill-conceived construction projects are also posing a severe threat to mountain habitats. About 25 per cent of the world’s mountainous regions are under threat from development projects planned for the next 30 years.

Such projects ultimately lead to loss of forest cover, loss of endemic flora and fauna, landslides and flooding. In India a large number of developmental projects in the Western Ghats are underway or in the process of being passed.

Instead of conserving and nurturing our precious natural resources, developmental projects such as the construction of hydro power plants, nuclear plant expansion, highway expansion, mining and industrial activities and railway projects destroy and sacrifice forests and pristine environments.

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What makes Sherpas special?

 

Sherpas are the superheroes of the Himalayas! The very first Sherpa to reach the top of Mt. Everest was Tenzing Norgay who performed this extraordinary feat along with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953.

Since then they have become invaluable as guides and porters to those aspiring to climb Mt. Everest. These gentle, small mountain dwellers are genetically adapted to withstand extreme cold and extreme deprivation of oxygen. This is because Sherpas are genetically predisposed to use oxygen more efficiently than lowlanders or people living in the plains. They combine with their extraordinary climbing skills and genetic advantage, a positive and cheerful mindset to face challenges.

This is what makes the Sherpa so special.

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What is transhumance? Where is it found?

 

The word ‘transhumance’ is used to describe the seasonal movement of livestock between summer and winter pastures. Herders usually have a fixed home in the valleys, where farming may be carried out as the soil is more fertile. Higher up farmland gives way to forests and then to alpine pastures. Beyond the snow line there is very little vegetation. Herdsmen usually take their cattle high up into the alpine zone in summer. Here cattle graze on green pastures and grow strong.

Once winter comes they move to the lower slopes where the weather is milder. Herdsmen often bring cattle into their houses and feed them grain that has been grown on terraces. The animals are kept warm and the heat from their bodies warms the homes of the herdsmen as well!

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