The population of the South Asian subcontinent includes 500 million people who subsist on less than one dollar a day and together make up 40 % of the world’s poor. In a workshop, participants from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal, among them scientists as well as NGO representatives, joined together to determine the focus of NCCR North-South research activities in South Asia. The consensus was that core problems associated with syndromes of global change are most acute in marginal regions and among marginalised people. As many of South Asia’s marginal areas are mountainous, problem clusters were considered to be specific to the “highland-low-land” syndrome context. It was concluded that within the JACS South Asia there is a need for research on the impact of global change upon marginal areas and within both the “highland-lowland” and the “urban-peri-urban” syndrome contexts as defined by the NCCR. Research will therefore be focused upon marginal or fragile mountain areas (i.e. those at risk due to climatic or environmental conditions in addition to their economic situation). In selected case study localities, rural livelihood strategies will be analysed to identify key factors impacting upon sustainable development. Institutions and policies that shape important processes like natural resource use, migration and rural development will form the focus of analyses.