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This chapter describes the evolution towards an integrated planning approach. The pitfalls associated with previous planning approaches are analysed and the need for an integrated approach is deduced.

Planning and Management of Land Resources in the Rural Development Context

Planning and management of land resources are integral parts of any rural development programme as well as many development programmes with both rural and urban components. Land use does not consider agricultural uses only but also encompasses natural areas, forests, watercourses and urban areas among others. Land-use planning has often had negative connotations because it was traditionally associated with top-down procedures. In centrally-planned economies, land users have been ordered how to use their land based on a scientific assessment of its capability or suitability.


  • land-use planning and rural development
  • constraints in previous approaches
  • need for an integrated planning approach

In recent years, definitions have moved towards using planning in a more advisory capacity, as a mechanism to support the decisions of the land user in attaining his or her objectives. Planning has also come to be viewed as one step in land resources management.

The FAO Guidelines for Land-use Planning (FAO, 1993) defined land-use planning as:

Land-use planning is the systematic assessment of land and water potential, alternatives for land use and economic and social conditions in order to select and adopt the best land-use options. Its purpose is to select and put into practice those land uses that will best meet the needs of the people while safeguarding resources for the future. The driving force in planning is the need for change, the need for improved management or the need for a quite different pattern of land use dictated by changing circumstances.

Agenda 21, the result of the UN Conference for Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Biological diversity, and the post-Rio conventions such as those dealing with biodiversity and desertification, have called for a more integrated approach to planning and management of land resources. They emphasize the need for active involvement and participation of stakeholders, particularly at the local level, in decisions on land use and management. In this context, land-use planning is regarded as a mechanism for decision support rather than a technical evaluation procedure, and is closer in concept to the definition in Box 1.

BOX 1: Bhutanese Definition of Land-use Planning

The means of supporting farmers and rural communities who make their living from utilization of natural resources, so that their standard of living increases sustainably, i.e. without creating conflicts between the different types of land uses and land users and without diminishing the resource base in the future.

Source: LUP News, Ministry of Agriculture, Thimphu, April 1993, Vol. 1, No. 1.

In line with the foregoing, planning of land resources is now defined as follows:


Land-use (or Land Resources) Planning is a systematic and iterative procedure carried out in order to create an enabling environment for sustainable development of land resources which meets people's needs and demands. It assesses the physical, socio-economic, institutional and legal potentials and constraints with respect to an optimal and sustainable use of land resources, and empowers people to make decisions about how to allocate those resources.

Constraints Associated with Previous Approaches

People in rural areas are continually faced with the difficulty in practice of achieving the multiple goals of "increased production", "raised living standards", "resource conservation" and "food self-sufficiency". Worldwide many development projects related to land resources have failed. Many more are only partially successful. Sustained benefits of such projects are often relatively small in relation to inputs by government or donors.

Development programmes are essentially a response to perceived problems or symptoms of problems and development opportunities. Although it is recognized that much can be learned from successful projects, some of the most common lessons learned from less successful development programmes are given in Box 2.

BOX 2: Some Reasons for Less than Succesful Outcomes of Previous Rural Development Programmes

  • lack of clear and consistent policy for sustainable land use
  • failure to address the legitimate goals of land users and to involve them in the planning process
  • failure to address all issues relevant to the problem
  • failure to integrate all the necessary disciplines and activities
  • undue emphasis on technical solutions
  • institutional problems
  • inadequate or ineffective regulation of land use
  • lack of well targeted incentives, or inappropriate incentives
  • lack of funds (good planning is expensive)
  • lack of access to information, tools or training to make informed decisions

The ultimate objective of assistance in planning and management of land resources must be to strengthen relevant local institutions to the point where they are fully capable of addressing and solving the problems of the country. However, at present, most technical assistance in the area of land-use planning or land management, and most project documents, place emphasis on technical solutions. External experts may assume a dominant role in problem identification and in programme implementation. If local staff are not trained in the application of the technical methods, and not fully involved in their development, there is no sense of intellectual ownership and systems are not used or maintained after the end of the project.

Apart from these drawbacks, such projects rarely address the larger institutional issues at government and grass-roots level. Unless these are successfully resolved no land-use methodology, even if perfect in theory, can ever be successfully put into practice.

Needed: An Improved Approach to Integrated Planning for Sustainable Management of Land Resources

Conventional land-use planning has frequently failed to produce a substantial improvement in land management, or to satisfy the priority objectives of the land users. As a result, rural development programmes have had mixed success in meeting production and conservation aims. In calling for an integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources, Chapter 10 of Agenda 21 identifies the following specific needs:

  • development of policies which will result in the best use and sustainable management of land
  • improvement and strengthening of planning, management, monitoring and evaluation systems
  • strengthening of institutions and coordinating mechanisms
  • creation of mechanisms to facilitate the active involvement and participation of communities and people at local level

An improved approach is necessary to meet these needs. It must take into account the problems listed in Box 2, and must ensure:

  • that programmes are holistic and comprehensive, so that all factors which are significant in relation to land resources development and environmental conservation are addressed and included. Among other things this implies that the planning process must include and consider all competing needs for land, and also that in selecting the "best" use for a given area of land in terms of needs and objectives, all possible land-use options must be considered, not only agricultural crops.
  • that all activities and inputs are integrated and coordinated with each other. There must be built-in mechanisms to combine the efforts and inputs of all disciplines and groups.
  • that all actions are based on a clear understanding of the natural and legitimate objectives and needs of individual land users, and how these affect the production process and the exploitation of land resources on the one hand, and on the other hand an appreciation of the necessary framework of incentives, sanctions and negotiations which needs to be developed to ensure sustainability, and the long-term needs of all individuals, considered as members of local and global communities.
  • that all actions and programmes are based on consensus freely entered into, and a partnership between governments and other institutions, and people or stakeholders. This requires that the people should be fully informed and consulted, and that mechanisms are established to ensure this.
  • that the institutional structures needed to develop, debate and carry out agreed proposals are put in place at all levels.


Buthan. LUP News, Ministry of Agriculture, Thimphu, April 1993, Vol. 1, No. 1.

FAO. 1993. Guidelines for Land-use Planning. FAO Development Series 1. Rome.

UNCED, 1993. Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development. United Nations, New York

Further Recommended Literature

FAO/UNEP. 1996. Our Land Our Future. A New Approach to Land Use Planning and Management. FAO/UNEP, Rome.

FAO/UNEP. 1997. Negotiating a Sustainable Future for Land. Structural and Institutional Guidelines for Land Resources Management in the 21st Century. FAO/UNEP, Rome.

GTZ. 1995. Land Use Planning. Methods, Strategies, Tools. GTZ, Eschborn.

Kutter, A., Nachtergaele, F.O. and Verheye, W.H. 1997. The new approach to land use planning and management and its application in Sierra Leone. ITC Journal 1197 - 3/4. Enschede.

Verheye, W., Brinkman, R. and Sims, D.A. 1997. Elements of a different approach to land development. The Land. 1(2): 143-152.

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