Mountain Societies Research Institute

The Graduate School of Development's Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI) conducts research for development with the goal to improve the well-being of mountain societies in Central Asia.

MSRI has five objectives:

  • To generate knowledge on mountain societies through original scientific research;
  • To serve as a knowledge hub for scholars, development practitioners, and policy makers;
  • To enhance regional capacity to conduct sound research relevant to mountain societies;
  • To inform policy and practice through engagement with key development partners;
  • To disseminate knowledge among mountain stakeholders, including the co-development and co-teaching of UCA's academic programmes.

MSRI conducts trans-disciplinary research to help inform and contribute to the Sustainable Mountain Development agenda in Central Asia. MSRI's integrated approach to research with and for the benefit of mountain societies demands an understanding of both social and ecological factors operating at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Research Themes

MSRI's primary concern is the wellbeing of people and communities residing in mountain areas, and the major factors and drivers affecting their livelihoods, economies and environments.

Core research themes include:

  • Natural resources, their governance and management
  • Land systems and livelihoods, including food security
  • Social dynamics including migration and conflicts over natural resources
  • Disaster risk reduction and management
  • Biodiversity conservation

MSRI's cross-cutting research includes the following themes:

  • Climate change and globalisation
  • Regional and intra-community development disparities
  • Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

MSRI Advisory Group

MSRI is supported by a Working Group which has guided its staff hiring campaign and the development of its mid and long-term strategic vision. The Group consists of Dr Yuri Badenkov (Russian Academy of Science), Dr Helmut Echtler (University of Potsdam, Germany), Dr Hans Hurni (University of Berne, Switzerland), Dr Ben Orlove (Columbia University, New York) and Dr Jianchu Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences). The MSRI Working Group will be established as a permanent Advisory Group which will meet annually, or as frequently as required.

Unique Challenges & Opportunities

Mountain societies in Central Asia face unique challenges, including geography-specific disadvantages such as remoteness and relatively under-developed service infrastructures.

Extreme topographical and seasonal variations limit natural resource dependent livelihood options and render these environments more vulnerable to the effects of climatic changes and natural hazards. Elevation, extreme weather and the challenges of providing health services in rugged isolated areas lead to increased health risks. Dynamic political and economic conditions, such as transitioning economies, conflict and ethnic tensions, and complex cross-border relations compound these conditions.

Conversely, the Tien Shan, Pamir, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges are home to great biological diversity that maintain ecosystem integrity and a sustainable flow of ecosystem services. These mountains are the water towers of a region that is facing increasing water scarcity. Central Asian mountains also harbour tremendous potential for energy generation, mineral extraction, and development of the livestock sector. Additionally, local communities are well-positioned to benefit from the growing global tourism demand for extraordinary natural landscapes, mountain-based adventures, and unique cultures.

There is a dearth of rigorously investigated and documented scientific understanding of mountain societies. Data are rarely disaggregated between mountain and non-mountain areas, and scientific investigation has been limited by remoteness and other physical challenges. Additionally, research is often conducted with little input from or benefit to the communities and the environments being studied. There is a need for rigorous scholarship to fill these gaps and begin new exploratory research on Central Asian mountain societies, as well as to practically apply findings to these unique people and places.

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