The Andean Himalayan Initiative includes the Andean nations of Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Equador and the Himalayan countries of India, the remote kingdoms of Ladak and Bhutan, and Nepal. Each will benefit by sharing information about environmental and economic sustainability issues in these remote and land-locked mountain regions, and by learning about the others' successes and failures. The project is about building friendships and long term mutual and beneficial relationships between these two mountain regions.
The United Nations has declared 2002 the Year of the Mountains and justly so.This year people worldwide will become more aware of the challenging issues in all mountain areas of the world. These mountain regions are the jewels of our planet.
We are involved in establishing new educational institutions as well as augmenting existing community organizations. We believe that long term cultural and environmental sustainability can be achieved by sustaining local customs and languages with economic incentive, empowering women with education and tools, reexamining ancient farming practices, adding solar and wind power technologies on a local level, and by looking for new ways to give economic sustainability to these remote regions.
The Andean Himalayan Initiative has helped launch an indigenous university in the Andean mountains outside of La Paz, Bolivia where the Aymara and Quetcha languages are still vibrant. Professors from major universities are donating their time to the youth by teaching not only 20th century educational materials, but also giving themselves and the students hands on experience with indigenous farming practices. Bolivia has over two hundred kinds of potatoes, for example, and current world practices of mono cropping go against these time honored traditions of keeping biodiversity as an essential ingredient to the community's long term health. This includes the cultivation and use of local herbs and medicines that are deeply integrated into the traditional spiritual practices.
Grassroots and local community efforts have started a sister school in Nepal. In the Himalayan kingdom of Ladak, our partner is an organic barley farmer who is also an environmentalist and photographer, documenting the rare wild life of his remote Himalayan kingdom. He is now in Switzerland showing his photos to our friends in the Alps and is spreading awareness about the devastating effects that globalization is having on local economies. Monasteries are crumbling while Wal-Mart opens another superstore.
One of the ways we like to bring awareness is to take people to these mountainous regions to have a direct experience of what is happening, particularly India and Bolivia. In 2001, we had an exploratory research trip to bring a small delegation from Bolivia and Venezuela to India, Nepal and Bhutan. They were able to see first hand among their countries the similarities in economic sustainability and environmental protection in the face of globalization. They found remarkable comparisons in food production, health care, education, environmental restoration as well as cultural and spiritual practices. Later in the year, a delegation went to Peru, Bolivia and Equador where they experienced that the environmental and cultural preservation issues in the geographic mountainous terrain of the Andes are so similar to those of the Himalayas.
We have been working with a local agent in India that supports wildlife projects such as the Periyar Tiger Preserve by hiring the indigenous people as guides in the forest. The guides are paid even when there are no tourists so that they will be encouraged to find it economically sustainable to enjoy the animals rather than kill or trap them for sale. The company loses money but it is looking at the long-term future of the park. The company is also are setting a new example for other parts of India and the world.
In contrast, the over-development of hotels in Kulu Manali in the Himalayan region has done great harm to the environment. Consequently, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is being very cautious in developing its tourist industry, giving only a very limited number of tourist visas a year. Peru has found great economic incentive bringing visitors to the mountain archeological wonders of Machu Pichu, but there are environmental abuses as well.
While controversial in eco circles, tourism can contribute to awareness and lend economic incentive to preservation rather than destruction. Learning how to do it better is the key. The new eco hotels in India are walking their talk. Bolivia's Madidi National Park empowers the local tribes to run the tourist camp and educates many visitors about the delicate balance between ecological and cultural survival of ecosystems, including plants, animals, and people.
The Andean Himalayan Initiative is a project whose time has come. The project was initiated by local people who care deeply about their vanishing languages and cultures. They recognize the destruction of their precious terrain by deforestation and monocropping. They want to turn the tide by re-educating their own local populations to have esteem for the ancient traditions of crop production, weaving, story telling, music, original languages. These populations can flourish by developing economic projects, utilizing solar and wind technology that will be self-sustaining and will protect their environment for future generations. They have lived for thousands of years in these remote mountain regions and this project is contributing to their continued survival. The Andean Himalayan Initiative is part of a growing awareness that will assist in keeping these jewels of the mountains of the world shining for the entire planet.
Bonnie Starnes, Director
Andean Himalayan Initiative