NEWS | Attending the International Mountain Conference in Austria
The International Mountain Conference is currently the largest international conference focused on mountain research topics.
The core team of the Eco-Corridors Fund (ECF) traveled to Austria this month to attend the 2022 International Mountain Conference (IMC) held in the city of Innsbruck from September 11-15, 2022. This was an important opportunity for the team to share the project methodologies, details and successes and to learn about other conservation and sustainable development projects in mountain landscapes around the world. The IMC is currently the largest conference focussing on mountain research topics. Representing the Caucasus and the ECF programme was the three ECF national coordinators (Rusudan Chochua, Armen Shahbazyan, and Khayyam Ismayil) and the Chief Technical Advisor of the ECF (Jernej Stritih) and the conservation manager from WWF Caucasus (Maka Bitsadze).
The ECF Chief Technical Advisor Jernej Stritih gave a presentation on the ECF programme. And it was a chance to network with international projects and organizations contributing working towards similar objectives as the ECF.
The goal of the IMC is to promote the cross-disciplinary exchange of information and interaction among participants in the quest for a holistic understanding of mountain systems.
The International Mountain Conference
The International Mountain Conference series is organized by the University of Innsbruck’s Research Area “Mountain Regions''. Its creation was motivated by the university’s long history of research in mountain landscapes worldwide but also at home in the European Alps where the university is based. The first IMC was held in September 2019 in Innsbruck with more than 500 experts attending and over 40 workshops. The goal of the IMC is to promote the cross-disciplinary exchange of information and interaction among participants in the quest for a holistic understanding of mountain systems.
Presenting ECF during Focus Session 42
After a brief introduction by the session mediator, Focus Session 42, Mountain Protected Natural Areas as Sustainable Development Tools, commenced. Jernej took the podium first, with his presentation on the ECF programme in the South Caucasus, focusing on the topic of linking ecosystem services and human wellbeing.
After introducing the South Caucasus region and its characteristics as a biodiversity hotspot, Jernej discussed questions of nature conservation vs human rights, and highlighted the challenges of how the ECF program is working to conserve nature without having a negative impact on the local people. “The idea of the ECF was created based on other contractual nature conservation programmes and projects,” he explained. “To benefit both nature and people is quite a simple concept but not always successful in application.”
Jernej then provided details about the three eco-regional corridors in which the project is implemented, briefly explaining the landscape characteristics, ecology and challenges each area faces. He went onto discuss the methodology with which the ECF has been successful in benefiting both nature and local people, breaking the approach down into five primary building blocks, and how these steps have worked in the past – both in ECF I but also in the South American communities where the knowledge was originally developed and first implemented in other KfW projects.
“We don’t go into villages as experts but present a process of contests and awards to let locals determine what their village needs and show they are able to cooperate.”
Jernej highlighted the effectiveness of the establishment of community-based organizations, and how this has led to the empowerment of individuals and local people to become partners, and work together toward common objectives. “They manage things themselves and act as a trustworthy partner for ongoing conservation efforts.” He also discussed how conservation objectives are met through long-term Conservation Agreements, and how these agreements function. “We don’t go into villages as experts but present a process of contests and awards to let locals determine what their village needs and show they are able to cooperate.”
Jernej finished up by discussing some of the primary challenges the ECF has faced in the Caucasus, primarily citing land tenure and the soviet history of communism as a challenge. He also discussed win-win opportunities and trade-offs.
It is these building blocks and the associated processes that have helped ECF I reach project objectives, and in sharing this strategy – including challenges faced – at international conferences such as this, the project is able to share and inspire other applications of this knowledge.
There was a brief question period following the presentation where Jernej directed one question about the selection of eco-corridors to Maka Bitsadze from WWF Caucasus who represents the Caucasus Ecoregional Conservation Plan (ECP) with which the ECF corridors are based on.
Following the five informative and diverse presentations that made up the Focus Session 42, Mountain Protected Natural Areas as Sustainable Development Tools, an open discussion ensued, where presenters and attendees were able to discuss the topics and exchange opinions, experience and information. The entire session was broadcasted on a live stream and discussion and networking continued long after the computers were closed. This is the essence of ICM, to get people together, sharing experience, success and ideas.
Networking During and Beyond Conference Sessions
The format of the ICM incorporates flexible session formats allowing for both presentations and discussions, and disciplinary as well as interdisciplinary focus. The venue and program also favors exchange among participants during and beyond conference sessions. Over the course of the five-day conference, the ECF team attended many sessions, together and individually, mostly focusing on community development, rural development and climate adaptation in the mountains.
“What stood out for me is the growing focus on the importance of mountain communities, their participation and empowerment in securing sustainable development in the mountains. Especially with the growing impacts of global warming. In this respect it turns out that our project is one of the most advanced initiatives, proving how communities can be supported in taking their own responsibility for their development.”
- Jernej Stritih Chief Technical Advisor of the ECF programme
“For me the most interesting session was the Smart Mountain Villages session which discussed the use of smart sensors installed in communities. With the help of these smart sensors, information is collected about vehicles on the roads and the number of people on the street. The collected data is analyzed and recommendations are made to contribute to sustainable tourism activities.”
- Khayyam Ismayil
ECF Azerbaijan National Coordinator
“There were many interesting presentations from worldwide research centers with new approaches related to mountain ecosystem management. The presentations about data collection and analysis for monitoring of climate change in the mountainous region and application of smart systems for pasture management by local communities were particularly useful as they directly related to challenges faced by local Armenian communities in ECF regions.
- Armen Shahbazyan ECF Armenia National Coordinator
Overall, the week at the International Mountain Conference provided many new contacts, new ideas and a chance to share the work that the ECF team continues to do in the South Caucasus.
View ECF's presentation at the International Mountain Conference 2022 here.