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Wise land use is an essential basis for a healthy and prosperous future for the human race. In many developing countries, land well-suited for the production of food is already in short supply. This is often obscured by the existence of vast areas with limited potential for production. Fuelwood, cash crops, timber for construction and grazing for livestock compete with food crops for space on the better quality land. The pressures which this competition engenders, coupled with unsuitable land-use practices, lead to degradation, erosion and, eventually, to complete destruction of the soil. Vast areas of the planet's best land resources have already been destroyed as a result of man's activities. Meanwhile the numbers of human beings and their domestic animals continue to multiply.

In 1976 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published A Framework for Land Evaluation. This publication synthesized international thinking on the best way to assess the potential uses of rural land as a prerequisite to sound land-use planning. The framework was just that - a framework of philosophy and principles upon which procedures for the sound evaluation of land potential could be developed. It attracted wide interest, and the methodology was tested and adopted in many countries.

FAO subsequently published a series of documents describing procedures for land evaluation for rainfed agriculture (1983), forestry (1984) and irrigated agriculture (1985). A further publication on land evaluation for extensive grazing is being prepared. Each makes use of extensive international experience and discussion, and is based on the original Framework.

The purpose of this publication is to increase awareness of the crucial need for reliable land evaluation in the context of land-use planning and rural development. Doubtless, the procedures will be improved but, in view of the need to increase food production in some areas of the world and protect remaining soil and land resources from further degradation, methods which have already proved successful should be more widely applied. They provide a practical and tested basis for safeguarding the world's land resources for future generations. FAO, in fulfillment of its international mandate, stands ready to assist all countries in whatever way it can in this important activity.

Edouard Saouma
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations

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