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Land resources are limited and finite. If human populations continue to increase at the present rate there will be twice as many people in the world in about 60 years. There is therefore an increasingly urgent need to match land types and land uses in the most rational way possible, so as to maximize sustainable production and satisfy the diverse needs of society while at the same time conserving fragile ecosystems and our genetic heritage.

Land-use planning is fundamental to this process. It is a basic component, whether we are considering mountain ecosystems, savannahs or coastal zones, and underlies the development and conservation of forestry, range and inland as well as coastal resources. Land-use planning is also a key element in all types of agricultural development and conservation.

These guidelines are intended to help all those involved in planning the development, management and conservation of rural land. This includes not only specialists in land-use planning but also ministers of agriculture and environment, extension workers, forest officers, village leaders and many others who contribute to or are involved in planning the use of land resources. This publication provides an overview for people who commission and adopt land-use plans. It also provides practical advice for those who have to prepare such plans.

Land-use planning is sometimes misunderstood as being a process where planners tell people what to do, i.e. a typical top-down situation. In this publication, land-use planning means the systematic assessment of physical, social and economic factors in such a way as to assist and encourage land users to select land-use options that increase their productivity, are sustainable and meet the needs of society. Farmers and other land users can, and should, take an active part in land-use planning, bringing to bear their special knowledge of problems, constraints and needs for improvement.

This is not an instruction manual. It is impractical to provide instructions that are sufficiently comprehensive to apply to the diversity of climate, land resources and economic and social conditions for which land-use plans are needed. However, the principles and methods outlined here provide a framework for the development of detailed procedures that will deal directly with the specific problems and opportunities of land use in individual countries.

Land-use planning is an extremely complex subject, combining physical, social and economic aspects of land use with an assessment of potential future needs. We would, therefore, welcome comments and suggestions as to how these guidelines could be improved. We also invite any person or group who is interested in carrying out case-studies on particular land-use planning programmes or projects to contact us regarding possible collaboration.

C.H. Murray
Chairman, Inter-Departmental Working Group on Land Use Planning, FAO

Plate 1: Good land use, closely matched to the potential of the land in a long-settled area



Many people have participated in the development of these guidelines, including FAO field staff, members of Sub-Group I of the FAO Inter-Departmental Group on Land Use Planning, under the chairmanship of Maurice Purnell. Their contributions are gratefully acknowledged. The first draft was prepared by Devon Nelson and the second by David Dent. Successive drafts were reviewed at two expert consultations, held in Rome in 1986 and 1989, and comments were received from many people - of particular value were those from the Working Group, chaired by G. Robertson at the 1989 consultation, and those from J. Dixon and Robert Ridgway. Final editing was done by Anthony Young and FAO staff in Rome.



Guidelines for land-use planning is primarily intended for people engaged in making land-use plans, or those training to do so, including staff of local government, national agencies and international projects in developing countries. The guidelines also provide an overview of land-use planning for administrators and decision-makers.

Chapter 1 describes the nature and purpose of land-use planning: what it is, why it is needed, who benefits from it and who carries it out. It describes the different levels or scales at which planning is carried out and identifies the people involved: the land users, the decision-makers and the planning team.

Chapter 2 outlines the work involved in terms of ten steps, from the first meeting between planners and potential users to the implementation of the land-use plan. These steps provide a logical sequence of activities, each of which has a purpose.

Chapter 3 describes the same steps in more detail. Again, flexibility will be needed in adapting each step to the specific circumstances of a particular plan. For each step, a Checklist is given.

Chapter 4 is for reference. It indicates some of the technical methods that are available for planning, with references to sources of detailed information.

Technical terms are defined in the Glossary.


Planning is a learning process and needs to be flexible. It can best be learned by doing. The ten steps outlined in Chapters 2 and 3 need not be followed rigidly, but can be adapted to circumstances. However, thought should be given to the purpose of each step and to whether it is needed in a particular plan. The guidelines can be adapted to local conditions, either by producing national land-use planning handbooks or simply by listing the needs, tasks and responsibilities for a particular project as well as allowing for adjustments on the job.

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