2015 UIAA Mountain Protection Award Winner

23 Oct, 2015

Nepal-based project KTK-BELT (in full ‘Koshi Tappu Kanchenjunga Biodiversity Education Livelihood Tera Studio') has been confirmed as the third winner of the UIAA Mountain Protection Award (MPA).

Created in 2013 as a response to forest loss, habitat decrease and a drop in biodiversity, KTK-BELT is a platform for farmers, teachers, designers and environmentalists working together to build community-based biodiversity conservation strategies in the eastern region of Nepal.

KTK-BELT was chosen from an impressive list of 22 inspirational candidates nominated to receive the MPA, sponsored by Western University and Golden Rock.

 Image: KTK-BELT, Nirman Shrestha

 Image: KTK-BELT, Nirman Shrestha

"We are honoured to be recognized amongst so many important mountain conservation projects from around the world. We see the Award as recognition of both the critical importance of conserving species and habitat in the eastern Himalayas, as well as recognition of the determination, creativity and drive of local leaders, especially Kumar Bishwakarma of Yangshila Nepal, who is really our inspiration on this project,” explained KTK-BELT co-founders Rajeev K Goyal and Priyanka Bista. "The threats to biodiversity in eastern Nepal which include deforestation, wetland degradation, and depletion of freshwater resources from land use changes and impacts of climate change are severe and urgent. We see this Award as giving us the resolve to take KTK-BELT to the next level with the help of UIAA and the global scientific community."

"This is an ambitious project that covers all facets of mountain stewardship, from the educational value, to the livelihoods of people and the preservation of biodiversity and natural resources,” revealed assessor Marjorie von Strien, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Valérie Thöni, UIAA Project Officer, added: "The project is the fruit of collaborative work between research and practitioners. This is quite unusual, as most of the time the scientific world and other stakeholders don’t interact so much. It is based on extensive research about the biodiversity and indigenous knowledge of the region. Then this knowledge will be passed onto local communities through place-based education and educational exchanges.”

Following the pillars of collaborative design, community-based conservation and environmental education, the goal of KTK-BELT is to create a continuous forested belt from Koshi Tappu (67m/220-ft), Nepal's largest aquatic bird reserve, to Mt. Kanchenjunga (8,586m/28,169 ft), the third tallest peak in the world. The creation of this BELT will help conserve, and raise educational awareness about, the more than 6,600 plants, 180 mammal species, and 500 bird species found along this 8,000m vertical gradient. 

Image: KTK-BELT, Priyanka Bista

The BELT, a biodiversity corridor, would serve as a ‘Living Classroom’ and ‘Vertical University’ to teach place-based knowledge. At present, the first prototype of this ‘Vertical University’ is being created in Yangshila, located in the Siwalik hills. More than 20 'learning grounds' have been assembled. "By creating community-owned 'learning grounds', we hope we are creating a new infrastructure and tool for conservation and education which is sensitive to the particularities of each village, while also feeding into a larger movement,” explained Priyanka. This model, if successful, will be applied across the vertical gradient to cover 107 habitat types and reach more than 150,000 people living along this it. These people come from many different caste and ethnic groups and possess rich indigenous knowledge about the landscape. Farmers will be the teachers and citizen scientists of the vertical university. 

"This is a major growth year for KTK-BELT,” revealed the winners. "We will also be training our first cohort of KTK-BELT fellows who will learn human ecology mapping, nursery design, and biodiversity mapping using GIS and other technologies, through training and master classes with experts. We will also be identifying new sites in the landscapes of eastern Nepal to grow the 'Vertical University' through the BELT campaign. We will be engaging in permaculture design work and development of medicinal and aromatic plants nurseries within Yangshila.” 

Creating such an ambitious project has required a great deal of hard work, determination and support.

"Generating the funding for the 100-acre biodiversity land trust and for our initial programmatic activities was difficult because at that point it was just an idea. This is a project that has emerged from the grassroots, through the ingenuity of local teachers, farmers, and youth, and in that sense it has a strong base of support,” revealed the co-founders. "Developing the right model, within the socio-economic and educational context of eastern Nepal, was also something that took time and research. We ultimately adopted a mixed mosaic model, where local conservation organizations registered as non-profit cooperatives coalesce into a federation. We went with this model because ultimately it will be self-sustained through the creation of a 'Vertical Bank' but all of this will take time and initially a great deal of support from foundations, research institutions, and individuals.”

KTK-BELT will contribute to innovative forms of place-based education in the context of mountain preservation:

-        creating hundreds of place-based education opportunities by identifying and labelling species with plant signs and by creating informational signs and pavilions to educate people about ecosystem services;

-        contributing to upstream-downstream linkages as communities at higher altitudes will engage in educational exchanges with those living down-stream. In this way, the BELT can enhance disaster resilience and help facilitate cooperative climate change adaptation (a topical issue in light of the April 2015 earthquake and subsequent natural disasters); and, 

-        contributing to research and becoming a field ground for those wishing to engage in participatory action research (PAR), where scientific research can be applied to achieve better biodiversity conservation results.

Image: KTK-BELT, Nirman Shrestha

 Image: KTK-BELT, Nirman Shrestha

The project has an amazing legacy plan in focus, with education at its core. "Nepal is a country where millions of youth are migrating abroad and working in harsh and often incredibly dangerous conditions of low pay. At the same time, their own communities contain many economic opportunities rooted in biodiversity, eco-tourism, and agriculture, which KTK-BELT seeks to open up. We don't see this project as something which just a few people lead, but rather where ultimately hundreds of thousands of youth will get involved to grow the BELT and create new streams of the green economy which is currently missing in this region. We think there is an economy of scale which will both boost disaster resilience while creating meaningful work opportunities which reflect the dignity of farmers, who are really the backbone of society,” closed the worthy winners.

For full details about the KTK-BELT project please visit:
http://belt-project.org

The Full List of 2015 Nominees:

 - Azerbaijan: 
Less in More Out project by FAIREX clubs RockStone & Climb Club       

- Argentina:
Desertification prevention and capacity development project, by the Fundación Agreste 

- Australia: 
Litchfield's gold luxury environment tour, by Ethical Adventures 

- Bulgaria: 
Traditional ecological knowledge of brown bear as a conservation tool in Rodopi Mountains, by Wild Rodopi 

- Cambodia: 
Preservation programme in Cardamom Mountain Range by Wildlife Alliance

Chile: 
Living Treasures: the Arrieros project by Flecha Extrema

China: 
Peng Luo collaborative ecological programme by Eco Action Now 

France: 
Mountain Days campaign by Mountain Riders 

France: 
Obsolete facilities and war remnants removal by Mountain Wilderness

- India: 
Conservation and development initiative in Khaptad National Park, by the Tourism Development Society

India: 
Waste management and cleanliness solutions for our mountains by Waste Warriors 

India:
Overa wildlife sanctuary protection project by the Al’Sarwat Students Co-ordination for Environmental Planning

India: 
Agoda community development project by Shikhar Travels

Ireland: 
Green track project to miners village – Glendalough, by Mountain Meitheal 

- Latin America:
International mountaineering and climbing encounters by Mujer Montaña

- Nepal:
Vertical University' from Koshi Tappu to Mt. Kanchenjunga, by KTK Belt organisation

 - Pakistan: 
Preservation of access routes and sustainable waste management in eco fragile mountain areas, by the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organisation
 
Peru: 
Ethical expeditions and Guias locales programme by Project Cordillera

Peru: 
Culture of Mountain education project, by the Centro Cultural de Montaña

- Switzerland:
Deconstruction - for nature project by Mountain Wilderness

Tajikistan: 
Energy management and alternative resources project, by Little Earth
 
United States of America: 
Access Fund and Climbing Conservation Loan Program, by the American Alpine Club

UIAA Mountain Protection Awards Winners

2015 KTK-BELT, Nepal
2014 Pamir Horse Adventure, Tajikistan
2013 Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area (GCCA), Ethiopia

ABOUT THE UIAA MOUNTAIN PROTECTION AWARD AND THE UIAA MOUNTAIN PROTECTION COMMISSION

The goal of the UIAA Mountain Protection Award aims is to promote innovative projects on good  mountain tourism practices and reward outstanding initiatives from mountain stakeholders (associations and tourism agencies).  It supports community-based tourism that simultaneously contributes to the conservation of ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods for local people. Projects submitted should involve environmental concerns and activities linked with energy efficiency, conservation initiatives, waste management, community activities and water conservation. Projects that involve collaboration with and the support of local communities are of particular interest to the awards panel.

Since it was founded in 1969, the Mountain Protection Commission has worked to protect the mountains – one of the last natural, unspoilt and free spaces on earth. The goal is to ensure that the mountains will still be there to enjoy for future generations of mountaineers and mountain people. The Mountain Protection Award is supported by sponsored by Western University and Golden Rock.

The UIAA – International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation was founded in 1932 and has a global presence on five continents with 80 member associations in 50 countries representing about 3 million climbers and mountaineers. The organization's mission is to promote the growth and protection of mountaineering and climbing worldwide, advance safe and ethical mountain practices and promote responsible access, culture and environmental protection.

The organization operates through the work of its commissions which make recommendations, set policy and advocate on behalf of the mountaineering community. The UIAA is recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

For media enquiries please contact Valérie Thöni

Learn more at:
www.theuiaa.org,@UIAAmountains and facebook.com/theuiaa

ABOUT SPONSORS WESTERN UNIVERSITY AND GOLDEN ROCK

Western University is a private educational institution based in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan. Founded in 1991, it has become one of the leading universities in Azerbaijan. Western University has been a member of European Foundation for Management Development since 1996. It has also been a member of International Universities Association (IAU) within UNESCO since 1997, a member of Black Sea Universities Network since 1999 as well as a corporate member of International Institute of Administrative Sciences since 2001, and a member of International Tourism Association "Atlas".

Golden Rock Travel is dedicated to creating and facilitating travel experiences that expand awareness and give each person a true sense of the country and culture they are visiting. Their services give clients choice and the ability to have their needs met in just one simple call/email. They offer exciting tour packages and transfers to almost all destinations at very affordable rates. Local eco tours include tracking, mountaineering, camping, eco-cultural tourism, horseback riding, etc.