The Vertical University was born from the simple precept that in a mountainous country like Nepal, where there is exceptional diversity from the tropical plains to the alpine Himalayas, conventional education paradigms make little sense. 

KTK-BELT studio is creating a ‘vertical university’ to teach indigenous knowledge and strengthen biodiversity. KTK-BELT’s mission is to catalyze new models of biodiversity conservation and environmental learning in eastern Nepal. The idea is to give a framework to local farmers to become ‘professors’ of the Vertical University, to share their indigenous knowledge while also physically conserving threatened species and landscapes.

The “professors” of the vertical university may not have a Ph.D. and in fact may never have set foot in school, but as indigenous farmers, they possess intricate, intergenerational knowledge about local fauna and flora which is critical for Nepal’s youth to attain. The vertical university will deepen place-based skills in sustainable technology, craft, and medicinal plants, and seeks to conserve and activate local knowledge while also creating sustainable livelihood opportunities. It does this through establishing “learning grounds,” which are micro-conservation hubs — the “classrooms” of the university throughout different locations across the landscape.

There is a pressing need for low-cost, low-tech, and field-based educational opportunities embedded in local communities, supporting organic or sustainable farming methods. By creating an online Indigenous Knowledge Portal (IKP), the knowledge of the elders can pass down to youth, bridging the critical link between knowledge from the classroom to the outside world. 

“Local knowledge can’t really be found with just one person or even just across a single generation. There is a system of knowledge that expands and grows with each generation”

From Koshi Tappu Wildlife Sanctuary (67 m.) to Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), the third tallest peak in the world, there are six key nodes representing the six climatic regions of Nepal from the tropics to the Nival regions. Each Learning Ground is governed by a diverse local Board and is monitored by the Social Welfare Council (SWC) of the Nepal Government. The grounds own their own biodiversity-rich conservation land base, which are held in perpetuity in order to prevent ecosystem fragmentation and deforestation. Youth Fellows and BELT Farmers, trained and supported by KTK-BELT staff, run and administer the Learning Grounds and build capacity across the 8,000-meter vertical gradient through peer-to-peer, upstream-downstream collaboration.

The idea is that one day, a Nepali student could walk up the mountain across 118 different forest types, and learn from local farmers about the deep physical and biological diversity of the landscape.

Where is The Vertical University Project Now? 

As well as creating the BELT farmers programme, KTK-BELT also launched a BELT schools programme, which went into its second year January 2019. They currently have 9 schools involved. 


Other events they’ve been involved with, include an outdoor cinema screening of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth for local villagers and schoolchildren, and a celebration of ZERO pangolin poaching in Yangshila. Through the leadership of young people, the community signed a pact to create an 835-acre pangolin sanctuary surrounding their bio-intensive farm – which can expand all the way to Madhumalla, through awareness programs and new sanctuaries. 


In partnership with Sankhuwasabha Learning Grounds (SLG), KTK-BELT have also conducted the first meeting to create a 176,000-acre Community-Based Conservation Area in the Lumbasumba that will link the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area and Makalu-Barun National Park, the 3rd and 5th tallest peaks in the world. 

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