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The Challenge

About this document. In collaboration with UNEP, FAO has developed an improved framework for land resources development and management that addresses the evolving nature of integrated land resources management (ILRM). The new concepts have been introduced through a series of three publications.

Our Land, Our Future,
published in 1995,
which briefly introduces
the new planning approach


Negotiating a Sustainable Future for Land
(Structural and Institutional Guidelines for
Land Resources Management in the 21st Century)
published in 1997, which is aimed primarily at
policy- and decision-makers at the national level

This document, "The Future of Our Land - Facing the Challenge" is the third in the series and proposes an integrated planning approach for sustainable management of land resources based on an interactive partnership between governments and people. The approach is centred on the concept of stakeholders and their objectives, and the role of the government in creating the conditions within which rural people can use their land resources productively and sustainably. Integration of grass-roots participation with systematic procedures for evaluation of resources and planning is the key to this approach, and is necessary for its success.

This document is targeted primarily at professional and technical practitioners of land-use planning and land resource management at the national, sub-national and community level who want to implement an integrated approach to land resources management. Using these guidelines as a basis will facilitate the preparation of practical manuals on ILRM adapted to specific regions or individual countries.

What is next for land resources management in preparation for the 21st Century? Planning approaches must now evolve to meet the issues, trends and threats that are being faced, to take advantage of opportunities and build upon experience of what has worked in the past. There is an immediate need to understand better the interactions among different land uses and land users, to address issues of conflicting stakeholder objectives, and to capitalize on and improve linkages of information flow within and across political hierarchies through participatory mechanisms.

What is the current situation? Over the last ten years, major international fora such as the UNCED in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1992) and the World Food Summit in Rome, Italy (1996) have clearly established the need to alleviate poverty, ensure food security and maintain natural resources for future generations. In spite of being conceptually well prepared, the world continues to face the challenge of implementation. To reach the identified goals related to natural resources management, it must be recognized that there are interrelationships among natural resources, land use and people. Therefore implementing sustainable land management will be an integral part of achieving these goals.

The future trends associated with factors which greatly influence sustainable land management look somewhat less than promising. The world population will reach 8 thousand million by 2020. Population movements are increasing, from poorer to richer countries, from rural areas to urban centres, and from peripheral regions of low investment and growth to more dynamic ones. Half of the world population will be living in urban areas and vast numbers will be living in poverty. Rural populations will continue to be significant and will remain vulnerable and subject to a decline in social capital (education and institutional or social networks).

As a result, there will be far greater demand on land, water and biological resources, many of which are already degraded (16 percent of the total arable land area), with the degraded proportion tending to increase. Globally, conflicts over access and rights to resources are expected to be exacerbated. There will be increasingly severe environmental pressure from efforts to increase the use of land resources, water resources, animal and labour productivity. The dominant trend will be intensification of use of natural resources and the emergence of new intensifying technologies will expose social, ethical, cultural and environmental issues. Differences in access to and use of resources, technology and information will become greater.

Trade liberalization and globalization of markets may be the most important challenge for attempts to make land use sustainable. Reforms in agricultural support policies worldwide will have a profound impact on rural areas. Higher efficiency and economic growth of market-based agriculture will not eliminate rural poverty in marginal areas. Changes in trade regimes will influence incentives to produce sustainably, while globalization of markets and uniformity of consumption patterns will tend to reduce the diversity of agricultural systems and their adaptation to varied land conditions.

The resilience of land is further threatened by an increased incidence of human-made and natural disasters. Global conventions including the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) as well as a growing array of regulatory frameworks will be of increasing importance in directing use of land resources. Governments, farmer organizations and other stakeholder groups will need to engage in dialogue to understand their implications and respond accordingly. Decentralization and privatization will modify how and at what levels well-informed decisions will be taken.

What are the necessary consequences for which preparations should be made? It is necessary that a process be put in place for achieving an environment (of policies, incentives, regulations, etc.) enabling a move from the current state toward the perceived goals of the UNCED with regard to planning and management of land resources. Within this context, information exchange mechanisms (including networking and international fora), guidelines, tools and policy recommendations are needed for more broadly informed decision making about land resources.

An integrated approach requires improved coordination of planning and management of land and other resources. Agenda 21, Chapter 10, calls for reorganizing and, where necessary, strengthening decision-making structures, including policy, planning and management procedures. This approach recognizes the need for participation of all stakeholders in land-use decision making, and bridges the gap between the production and income objectives of land users and society's long-term objective of preserving natural resources. Of crucial importance are economic and legal conditions that encourage and reward sustainable land-use practices - inappropriate land tenure systems are one of the chief disincentives. Linkages are needed between, on the one hand, traditional land management systems and, on the other, the application of new technologies.

What is proposed in this document? In 1997, the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), in a special session convened to assess progress towards sustainable development (Earth Summit + 5), reiterated the needs and recommended that, at the international level, priority should go to developing and disseminating a new approach to land resources conservation and development. It specified that this approach should create social, economic and legal conditions that encourage sustainable development, meet the information needs of governments and land users, and involve all relevant institutions.

This document proposes an integrated approach to planning for sustainable management of land resources (IPSMLR). This is in accordance with FAO's responsibility as Task Manager for Chapter 10 of Agenda 21, which resulted from UNCED. Production of the document is financed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In relation to land resources, Agenda 21 states:

The broad objective is to facilitate allocation of land to the uses that provide the greatest sustainable benefits and to promote the transition to a sustainable and integrated management of land resources. Protected areas, private property rights, the rights of indigenous peoples and their communities and other local communities and the economic role of women in agriculture and rural development, among other issues, should be taken into account.

The following specific needs are identified:

  • The need to develop policies which will result in the best use and sustainable management of land.
  • The need to improve and strengthen planning, management monitoring and evaluation systems.
  • The need to strengthen institutions and coordinating mechanisms.
  • The need to create mechanisms to facilitate the active involvement and participation of communities and people at local level.

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