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The FESLM is designed as a pathway to guide analysis of land use sustainability, through a series of scientifically sound, logical steps.
The Framework pathway seeks to connect all aspects of the land use under investigation with the multitude of interacting conditions-environmental, economic and social-which collectively determine whether that form of land management is sustainable or will lead to sustainability.
The FESLM is concerned with evaluation. It does not encompass planning or development; although it can make an important contribution to both. Choice between alternative forms of land use or between ways of improving a land use system may not depend on sustainability alone; but the FESLM can contribute to decision making in these areas also.
The concept of evaluating sustainability can be most easily understood in respect to a very small area of land given up to a single use, such as a small field under a single crop. If the field is small enough it can be assumed that the influence of variables which might change the acceptability of the land use is spatially almost uniform. If examination of these variables and projection of their influence over a defined time period implies that the changes wrought will not, for any reason, render the land use unacceptable the land use is deemed 'sustainable' - for that time period.
Detailed sustainability analysis of the kind just described will employ the whole sequence of procedures of the FESLM and will be costly. The time and money spent on such analysis will be fully justified, however, in appropriate circumstances-in the design, execution and monitoring of long term 'sustainability' experiments, for example, or in tests to confirm the validity of generalized sustainability analysis of much larger areas. In these contexts the FESLM will play a vital role in all forms of sustainability research-that of evaluating whether 'improved' methods are, in fact, sustainable.
Society, however, rarely makes decisions on individual fields, but seeks guidance on much larger and more complex areas. The FESLM provides a systematic basis for a generalized approach to sustainability investigation within large areas. This is achieved by selecting and conceptualizing the more significant influences on environmental change.
It is intended to present the FESLM in a form that is easily accessible and intelligible to the lay public, to farmers and other land users so that, understanding its approach and principles, they can have confidence in its findings.
Especially in the early days of its development and use, however, the FESLM will call for expert contributions from a wide range of specialists who will identify and interpret the factors influencing sustainability. Subsequent experience will confirm, or point the need to adapt, the initial projections. Over time, an encyclopedic check list of experience in different environmental situations will be built up to guide and simplify future evaluations.
The FESLM will be designed and the check list structured so that the huge volume of data collected can be stored, handled and eventually, to a large extent, evaluated by computer.
A Master (or 'Reference') version of a fully developed FESLM will include, in addition to details of the evaluation procedure, a comprehensive Checklist (databank) recording environmental influences adverse to stable land management and would relate these:
to environmental indicators (selected factors) that reflect each influence;
to actions that can be taken to minimize instability in each instance;
to criteria (factors, numerical relationships, formulae, more complex models) that relate environmental change to observable and measurable attributes; and
to measurable threshold values which determine at what level each influence is a threat to sustainability.
The Master Framework procedures will be independent of scale and it is intended that, eventually, the check list will be worldwide in scope. Together the information in the Master Framework will permit rapid construction of Action (or 'Local') Frameworks to be used in evaluating the sustainability of a specific form of land use in a specific locality at a specific scale of investigation-a crucial contribution to sound land use planning and environmental conservation.
Experience in applying these Frameworks will draw attention to gaps in knowledge and assist, therefore, in defining research needs in the scientific development of land management packages.
Scanning the relevant sections of the check list will provide a safeguard against any oversight of potential problems during the planning stages of land development.
Finally, the Framework is planned to
provide a structured system for monitoring the progress of development; using the
diagnostic pathway for periodic evaluation of any change in the sustainability prognosis.
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