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Note: For terms in bold, see separate entries.

Agroclimatic region

An area of land that is suited to a specified range of crops, defined in terms of its temperature and rainfall regimes and, especially, its growing period.


An ecosystem based on agriculture. A farm, or component of a farm, treated as an ecosystem.


A collective name for land-use systems in which woody perennials (trees, shrubs, etc.) are grown in association with herbaceous plants (crops, pastures) and /or livestock, in a spatial arrangement, a rotation or both, and in which there are both ecological and economic interactions between the tree and non-tree components of the system.

Air photographs

Photographs of the land surface taken from aircraft, usually at a vertical angle, normally at scales of from 1:50000 to 1:5000. For interpretation, air photographs are viewed stereoscopically to give a three-dimensional impression. Landforms, vegetation, land use and some infrastructure (especially roads and tracks) can be directly seen on air photographs, while soil properties, geology and other land properties require indirect interpretation and administrative boundaries cannot be seen. Air photographs can also be used as base maps for presentation of a land-use plan. Air photographs may be panchromatic (black and white), colour (true colour) or false colour (see false colour imagery). Also called aerial photographs.


Management of any plant or animal that lives in water, e.g. fish farming, shrimp farming.

Benefit-cost ratio

The present value of the benefits from an enterprise (farm, forest, etc.) divided by the present value of its costs.

Cadastral survey

The inventory and register of landownership on maps.

Conservation requirements

The conditions of land necessary or desirable to achieve conservation of natural resources under a given land-use type.

Critical path method

A way of planning the operations needed to complete a land-use planning project by identifying the individual operations needed and plotting how each task has to be related to the others in time.

Crop requirements

The conditions of land necessary or desirable for the successful growth of a crop.


An executive person or group responsible for land-use policy, action and allocation of resources.

Digitized may

Mapped information stored in numerical form as a series of coordinates (north, east) and their values or properties (e.g. altitude, soil series, land use).

Discounted cash flow analysis

A method of financial analysis and economic analysis in which future benefits and future costs are reduced to a lower value, which is judged to be their present value, by discounting.


The reverse of adding interest. The value of a cost incurred, or benefit received, is reduced by an annual percentage, i.e. the discount rate, to obtain its present value.

Discount rate

The interest rate used to assess the present value of a future value by discounting. To simulate the investment behaviour in the private sector, the discount rate is set equal to the required rate of return in that sector. To calculate the social value of benefits and costs, an appropriate social discount rate should be used.

Diagnosis and design

An approach to, and set of methods for, the diagnosis of problems of land-use systems and the design of improved land-use systems which will help to solve these problems. Originally developed for the design of agroforestry systems, but can be applied to other kinds of land use. Also referred to as D&D.

District-level land-use planning

A level of land-use planning between the national and local levels, typically but not necessarily that of the administrative district. Intermediate map scales are used. Land-use development projects are often at the district level. (See local-level land-use planning and national-level land-use planning.)


A functioning, interacting system composed of living organisms and their environment. The concept is applicable at any scale, from the planet as an ecosystem to a microscopic colony of organisms and its immediate surroundings.

Economic analysis

Analysis that views the money value of a land-use system for the community as a whole.

Emergency planning

Land-use planning in response to a perceived problem for which action is urgently needed.

Environmental impact analysis

A procedure to predict the effects of changes in land use on the environment, particularly effects on water, soils, vegetation and human health and well-being.

Erosion hazard

The risk of soil erosion occurring under specified conditions, or in a specified area. Erosion hazard may be expressed in qualitative terms (severe, moderate, slight, etc.) or quantitative terms (as predicted soil loss in tonnes per hectare per year).

False colour imagery

Special film which records infrared radiation (which is not visible) as if it were red light; to make room for the infrared, the visible colours are moved across the spectrum so that red light is recorded as green and green as blue. False colour film can be used in air photographs or satellite imagery. False colour is valuable in distinguishing different kinds of vegetation and crops, as living vegetation contains chlorophyll which reflects infrared radiation strongly.

Farming system

A class consisting of all farms with similar land use, environment and economy; comprising the farm household, its land and the systems of cropping or livestock production for consumption or sale. A farming system is a decision-making unit and a land-use system based on agriculture.

Farming systems analysis

Investigation of farm-level constraints, translation of this knowledge into improved technology and testing of this technology.

Financial analysis

Analysis which looks at the money value of a system to the farmer, other land-user or private investor.

Geographic information system (GIS)

A computer system for storage, analysis and retrieval of information, in which all data are spatially referenced by their geographic coordinates (north, east). In addition to primary data, such as climatic and soil characteristics, a GIS can be used to calculate derived values, such as erosion hazard, forest yield class, or land suitability for specified land-use types. Data are usually derived from maps and derived values can be printed out as maps.


One of the major objectives of a land-use plan, defined in generalized terms, often those of policy.

Gross margin analysis

The calculation of the annual income of a single enterprise by taking the value of sales and subtracting the variable costs of production to obtain a margin of profit or loss.

Growing period

A continuous period of the year during which temperature and soil water availability are sufficiently high to permit plant growth. In most of the tropics, the growing period is determined by water availability within rooting depth- in the soil. In the temperate zone, low temperature is often limiting. In areas with bimodal rainfall distribution there may be two growing periods each year. The term applies primarily to annual crops, since deep-rooted trees can continue to grow when the top 2 m or more of soil is dry.

Incremental planning

Land-use planning based on small improvements to land-use systems, made one at a time.

Information management

Gathering, storing and analysing information needed for a specific purpose, such as land-use planning.


Permanent installations constructed to assist economic activity, such as roads, irrigation or drainage works, buildings and communication systems.

Integrated survey

See land systems survey.

Internal rate of return

A financial or economic indicator of the net benefits expected from a project or enterprise, expressed as a percentage. In financial analysis, the internal rate of return can be compared with the rate of interest prevalent in the market.


An area of the earth's surface, including all elements of the physical and biological environment that influence land use. Thus land refers not only to soil but also landforms, climate, hydrology, vegetation and fauna, together with land improvements such as terraces and drainage works.

Land capability classification

A classification of land in terms of its potential for use in specified ways and with specified management practices, generally as a sequence of capability classes 1, 2, 3... (or I, II, III...). Class 1 is treated as the "best" land, being suited to most types of use, while successively higher-numbered classes have more limitations and less flexibility of use. The United States Department of Agriculture's land capability classification is the best known, but adaptations to other countries have been made. The approach is different from that of land suitability evaluation, although the two can be reconciled.

Land characteristic

An attribute of land that can be measured or estimated, for example slope angle, soil depth or mean annual rainfall.

Land evaluation

The assessment of the suitability of land for specified uses. Assessment is made in terms of production, sustainability, the inputs needed to obtain that production, and (in the case of quantitative land suitability classification), economic return.

Land facet

A subdivision of a land system, consisting of an area of land which is fairly uniform with respect to properties that affect land use, e.g. has a narrow range of slope angle or soil type.

Land information system

A collection of information relevant to suitability for land use, particularly land characteristics. Land information systems are generally, but not necessarily, stored in geographic information systems.

Land quality

A complex attribute of land which affects its suitability for specific uses in a distinct way. For example, the land quality "availability of water" directly affects crop yields and, therefore, land suitability for different crops. Most land qualities can only be assessed by modelling the interaction of a number of land characteristics. For example, availability of water is modelled from data on rainfall, available water capacity of the soil, potential evapotranspiration.

Land tenure

The ownership or leasing system of land, or of the rights to use it.


A United States series of earth resource satellites first launched in 1972. Systematic, repeated digital data on the reflectance of, or radiation from, the earth's surface are acquired, and these can be interpreted in terms of land characteristics. Data are collected separately for different visible and invisible wavebands, which can be combined for interpretation. Under favourable conditions, the ground resolution can reach 30 m. Compare Spot.

Land suitability

The fitness of land for a specified kind of use.

Land suitability class

One of a set of classes for evaluating land suitability. The FAO system consists of three levels of classification: suitable or not suitable (S or N); degrees of suitability, e.g. highly, moderately or marginally suitable (S1, S2 or S3); and a letter indicating the major land limitation that has led to the class allocation (e.g. S2w = water limitation, S2e = erosion hazard limitation. (See Table 5, p. 40.)

Land system

An area of land with a recurring pattern of landforms, soils and vegetation and having a relatively uniform climate. Alternatively defined as an area of land with a recurring pattern of land facets.

Land systems survey

A survey of land resources based on mapping of land systems; usually land facets are also either identified or mapped. Otherwise called integrated survey.

Land unit

An area of land which possesses specific land characteristics and land qualities and which can be mapped.

Land use

The management of land to meet human needs. This includes rural land use and also urban and industrial use.

Land-use plan

A coherent set of decisions about the use of land and ways to achieve the desired use. A land-use plan includes: a definition of goals; an ordering of land and human and material resources; an explicit statement of the methods, organization, responsibilities and schedule to be used; and agreed targets.

Land-use planning

The systematic assessment of land and water potential, alternative patterns of land use and other physical, social and economic conditions, for the purpose of selecting and adopting land-use options which are most beneficial to land users without degrading the resources or the environment, together with the selection of measures most likely to encourage such land uses. Land-use planning may be at international, national, district (project, catchment), or local (village) levels. (See district-, local- and national-level land-use planning.) It includes participation by land users, planners and decision-makers and covers educational, legal, fiscal and financial measures.

Land-use requirement

Land conditions necessary or desirable for the successful and sustained practice of a given land-use type. Includes crop requirements or plant growth requirements, management requirements and conservation requirements.

Land users

All people who obtain their livelihood directly, either wholly or partly, from the land, e.g. farmers, foresters, pastoralists, staff of national parks.

Land-use system

A specific land-use type applied to a particular area of land.

Land-use type

A kind of land use described in enough detail to assess its land-use requirements and to plan the necessary inputs. The amount of detail varies with the level, scale and purposes of the survey, from generalized land-use types, such as "dairy farming" or "irrigated agriculture" in reconnaissance surveys, to detailed descriptions of plants, management, inputs, etc. in more intensive surveys.

Levels of land-use planning

The scale and intensity of a land-use plan, which may be at the national, district or local level.

Limiting value

The value of a land quality, or land characteristics, identified as marking the boundary between land suitability classes.


A land quality, or land characteristic, which adversely affects the potential of land for a specified kind of use, e.g. salinity, storm damage hazard.

Local-level land-use planning

Planning based on a village or other local community. Large map scales are used, such as 1:10000. Also referred to as village level land-use planning.

Logistic planning

Planning for the arrangement of inputs (capital and recurrent) and supplies, personnel and scheduling, for land use or for the implementation of a land-use plan.

Map scale

The ratio between distances on the ground and distances on a map. Small scales refer to maps which cover a large area such as a country on one map sheet, e.g. a scale of 1:1000000. Large scales refer to maps which cover a small area on one map sheet, e.g. a scale of 1:10000.


This term is used in two ways. In its narrower sense, the process of comparing land-use requirements with land qualities or land characteristics, to arrive at a land suitability classification. In its broader sense, the process of adaptation of land-use types, and consideration of land improvements, so as to arrive at land-use types which are better suited to the land.


The construction of physical, conceptual or mathematical simulations of the real world. Models help to show relationships between processes (physical, economic or social) and may be used to predict the effects of changes in land use.


The collection of information for the purpose of assessment of the progress and success of a land-use plan. Monitoring is used for the purpose of revising the original plan or to gather experience for future plans.

National-level land-use planning

Applied to planning at national government level which deals with the country's land, water or other resources as a whole. Small map scales are used. In large countries, planning of the major administrative divisions has some of the characteristics of national-level planning.

Natural resources

The resources of the land relevant to its potential for land use, e.g. climate, water, soils, pastures, forests.

Net present value

The present value of the benefits of an enterprise minus the present value of its costs.


A specific aim, expressing something to be achieved as part of the goals of a land-use plan.

On-farm research

Experimental work conducted on farms. There is a spectrum of research types, ranging from researcher-managed to farmer-managed.

On-station research

Experimental work conducted on experimental stations.

Partial farm budget

A budget of only part of a farm enterprise, assuming that only certain elements will change while the remainder will be constant; for example, the budget of a dairy enterprise on a mixed arable-dairy farm. It compares the marginal cost of an activity within the enterprise with the marginal increase in benefit that the activity will bring. Distinguished from whole farm budget.

Planner, planners, planning team

The person or group responsible for the preparation of a land-use plan, working in close cooperation with the land users and the decision-makers.


The exercise of foresight, systematically examining alternative proposals for action to attain specified goals and objectives. Includes the description of the desired future state of affairs and of the actions needed to bring about this state.

Plant growth requirements

The conditions of land necessary for the successful growth of a plant. The same as crop requirements, except that plant growth requirement applies to any plant, not necessarily an agricultural crop.

Present value

The value of an enterprise at the present time, after applying the process of discounting to its costs or benefits.


The standard spelling of a computer program.


A set of interactive, synchronized activities or projects aimed at achieving defined objectives by means of ongoing activities.


A set of activities with defined objectives to be completed in a certain time span.

Qualitative land suitability classification

Land suitability classification in which the results are expressed in qualitative terms only, without specific estimates of inputs, outputs or costs and returns. The description "qualitative" refers to the results of the suitability classification, not the conduct of the land evaluation.

Quantitative land suitability classification

Land suitability classification in which the results are expressed in numerical terms which permit comparison between suitabilities for different kinds of use. Usually these are economic terms, but quantitative physical comparisons are possible between uses with the same objective, e.g. between different pasture systems in terms of livestock carrying capacity or different forestry systems in terms of wood production.

Rapid rural appraisal

An exploratory survey procedure carried out by a multidisciplinary team to gain a quick overview of a local land-use situation. It involves review of existing data, remote sensing, field observation and interviews with land users, local government officials and others; it may cover both physical and socio-economic aspects.

Remote sensing

In land-use planning, remote sensing refers to the gathering of information through the use of air photographs and satellite imagery. Remote sensing should be conducted in conjunction with field surveying on the ground.


A set of activities directed towards the advancement of knowledge. Applied in land-use planning to improvements in the performance or management of land-use types (e.g. by better crop varieties, better scheduling of irrigation water), or to the prevention of problems encountered (e.g. pests and diseases). Experimental research may be on-station or on-farm research.

Risk analysis

An analytical technique in which the probabilities of occurrence of an adverse event (e.g. drought, hurricane, drop in the market price of a product) are estimated for each critical element of a project. Repeated calculations (normally by computer) are then made of a measure of the value of the project, with each element entering into successive computations according to the probability of its occurrence.

Rural land use

Land use other than urban and industrial use. Including agriculture (rain-fed and irrigated), livestock production, forestry, agroforestry, aquaculture, wildlife conservation, recreation and tourism.

Satellite imagery

Remote sensing imagery gathered by earth-orbiting satellites, including Landsat and Spot. Images are in specific wavebands (visible, infrared, etc.), which may be combined for purposes of interpretation. Images look like photographs but are not obtained by photographic methods, hence the term "images" or "imagery". Data from satellite imagery can be interpreted visually or analysed by computers in digitized form; they can also be entered directly into geographic information systems.

Sectoral agencies

Government departments or other agencies with a limited, specific field of responsibility, e.g. ministries or departments of agriculture, forestry, veterinary services, or a water or irrigation authority.

Sensitivity analysis

An analytical technique to deal with uncertainty about future events and values. It consists of varying one element (e.g. rainfall, market price), or a combination of elements, and determining the effect of those changes on the outcome of a project. In economic analysis, the effect of the changes on a measure of project value is calculated.

Shadow price

In economic analysis, this is any distortion of a free market price which is made in order to reflect the real scarcity value of goods or services, including labour. An example of a shadow price is the elimination of the effect of taxes or subsidies.

Social analysis

The analysis of a plan in terms of its impact of different sections of the community. Social analysis gives particular attention to the interests of minority groups, women and the poor.

Social discount rate

The discount rate used to estimate the social value (or value to the community as a whole) of an enterprise. It is sometimes held that, to reflect social values, the social discount rate should be lower than the discount rate used in the private sector.

Soil conservation

Activities aimed at minimizing the loss of soil by erosion. Soil conservation can be achieved by earth structures, such as banks and ditches, or by biological means, particularly maintaining a soil cover of living plants or plant litter. Soil conservation is also used in a wider sense to refer to all activities aimed at conserving the fertility of the soil.

Soil erosion

Removal of soil by wind, water or landsliding at a substantially faster rate than that at which soil-forming processes can replace it. Soil erosion is a result of human activities such as clearance of vegetation and cultivation of sloping land without adequate soil conservation measures.

Soil landscape

A soil mapping unit defined by its landform pattern and associated soils.

Soil mapping unit

Any unit describing the spatial distribution of soils, which can be mapped. Soil mapping units may be simple, consisting of one type of soil, or complex, consisting of two or more types of soil.

Soil profile

A vertical section through the soil, as seen in a soil pit. Usually, this reveals several more or less distinct soil horizons which differ in colour, texture and other properties.


(Satellite probatoire d'observation de la terre.) A French series of earth resource satellites, first launched in 1986. Under favourable conditions, the ground resolution can reach 10 m. Compare Landsat.


In land-use planning, standards refer to planning guidelines or limits, including conservation standards, standards for land-use management, standards for construction of capital works or standards for economic measures, e.g. loan interest rates.


Areas in which the slopes are predominantly steep or moderately steep and which therefore have distinctive land-use problems, e.g. high erosion hazard, landsliding and difficulty of road construction.


The logical framework for coordinating decisions that link development goals with the actions intended to achieve those goals.


See sustainable land use.

Sustainable land use

The central concept underlying use of this term is production combined with conservation. Alternative definitions are:

• land use which maintains production at or above its present level while, at the same time, conserving the natural resources (water, soil, pastures, forests, etc.) on which that production depends;

• land use which does not progressively degrade its productive capacity;

• land use which meets the needs of the present while at the same time conserving resources for future generations (WCED, 1987).

The achievement of sustainable land use is not confined to technical measures, but includes the economic and social conditions necessary for the success of these. The term sustainability is used in more or less the same sense.


A functional arrangement of components that process inputs into outputs, for example a farm. Systems display properties which result from the interaction of their components.

Systems analysis

The analysis and modelling of interrelated processes and operations with a view to designing a more efficient use of resources.

Tree tenure

The ownership, or rights to the use, of trees. Tree tenure is sometimes different from land tenure.

Variable costs

In financial analysis, the costs of production that can be attributed specifically to the activity being analysed. For example, in wheat production, the costs of seed, fertilizer, cultivation and harvesting are specific to the wheat crop and, therefore, form its variable costs.

Village-level land-use planning

An alternative term for local-level land-use planning.


Areas that are frequently flooded or waterlogged and so possess a distinct ecosystem adapted to a high water-table, e.g. a saltmarsh, a mangrove swamp or freshwater fen.

Whole farm budget

A budget of an entire farm enterprise. Distinguished from partial farm budget.

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