Your food and the Himalayas (the lesson)

Categorie(s): Agriculture, Food for Mankind, Water

Not many people will immediately think of food problems when watching pictures of beautiful mountain landscapes of the Himalayas. The truth is that a big part of the human population (40%) depends on these mountains for their food supply. And a big part of the other 60% depends on other mountain ranges. In Europe the Alps, in South America the Andes etc. Only, the Himalayas are the biggest, and the regions around them are very densely populated.
So, reasons enough to think further about the relation between mountains and (your) food:

First : Growing food, being rice or corn or chickens or fish, always asks for a lot ot water. Do you have any idea how much?
Second: A big part of our water, drinking water, water for washing or swimming, water for irrigating the fields comes to us from mountains, perhaps even far away.
Third: We hear a lot about climate change nowadays. During te climate conference ‘COP15’ in Kopenhagen (December 2009) the worlds leaders decided that the world average temperature should not rise more than 2ºC. But, when the world gets 2º C warmer, the temperature in the mountains would rise about 5ºC (also the North Pole would warm up 5ºC). Try to think what this wil mean for the glaciers and the rivers!


    1. Read the text ‘Himalayan water stress’ carefully. Make a short summary. Write down what questions you have about the text, and find the answers (ask your teacher, look up in books or internet).
    2. a. Make a list af the countries in and around these mountains, depending on water from them.
      b. If you live somewhere else, and not in or near mountains, find out from which mountain range the river(s) in your region come.
    3. a. How can you explain that areas, normally covered with snow and/or ice are warming up more than other places?
      b. What happens with solar radiation on dark surfaces and what on white surfaces?
      (Tip: Experiment to show this: Place two identical paper boxes (shoe box or smaller) in a sunny place, after painting one black and the other white. Put a thermometer inside each box and control the thermometer every hour during one full day, from sunrise untill after dark.)
    4. What happens with the amount of water available for farmers in a valley when
      a. a glacier gets smaller because of less snow falling in winter
      b. a glacier gets smaller because of higher temperatures
      c. the mountain sides are deforested because people need firewood
      d. high altitude wetland are being drained (for agriculture and/or for grazing cattle)
    5. We all use much more water than what you see. Making a car, or a book or a pc, it all takes a lot of water. Do the waterfootprint (www.waterfootprint.org) to find your personal waterfootprint.
      You can also find information on http://(www.waterfootprint.org)
    6. Rivers fed by mountain regions (Himalayas or others) are essential to feed people. Climate warming may change the patterns, probably there will be more droughts and more flooding. In some regions people have been used to droughts, in other places like Bangla Desh people have learnt to adapt to flooding.
      a. How can farmers (and other people) adapt to drought? (Ask people in your community. Ask people who have been traveling, discuss in your class to find as many possibilities as possible)
      b. How can farmers and other people adapt to regular flooding of the river (ask people in your community, maybe older people can tell!. Discuss in your class and find as many possibilities as possible)
    7. Growing populations, changing climate, deforestion and erosion, all these things can mean that there will not be enough food in the future. But there are many possibilities to prevent shortages
      a. Nowadays much food is wasted (by pests, but also by the carelessness of people) – preventing waste can help to feed millions more.
      b. Much of the waste people produce can be used again, recycled (like paper, organic matter etc). Wasted food can be fed to chickens or other animals.

Discuss in your class what you can do to make your community (or your school) ‘greener’ (less wasting, more recycling, etc)
Of course the problems of climate change and water management are enormous, as individuals we all feel powerless – but in fact big changes and improvements have always started as small actions. Who knows how your class can make a difference!


 right: Adapted to flooding: house on stilts in de Mekong delta (Vietnam)

left: Adaptation to drought: Water storage in de Himalayas, (Nepal)









It depends a lot on the place where you live, but maybe your class can take action

  • to prevent waste better, especially wast of water!
  • to plant trees or shrubs against erosion
  • to find out which crops can grow with less water or anyway
  • to make people (and especially other students) of the role of water from the mountains, and what can be done to prevent problems – in your own region or elsewhere…