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Chapter 4: Constructing an action framework

Getting started with an action framework
Establishing the purpose
Level 1: The objective statement
Level 2: The means statement (present use)
Level 3: Evaluation factors
Level 4: Diagnostic criteria: (cause/effect and observations)
Level 5: Indicators and thresholds

Getting started with an action framework

Action (or 'Local') Frameworks are the cutting edge of the FESLM, the part where theory changes to action. They use the principles, procedures and structure advocated in the Master Framework and eventually will draw from it a selection of indicators and thresholds with which to evaluate the sustainability of a specified use. The generalized guidance provided by the Master Framework has to be refined and fitted to a pattern determined by the precise objectives of the local investigation.

Before starting work on sustainability, the evaluator can expect to have at his disposal, or will need to acquire:

• a wide range of information relating to the natural and human environment of the site;

• a systematic land evaluation confirming that the use to be investigated is suited to the present conditions of the site.

The need for prior suitability evaluation has been queried, but it should be noted that the requirements of systematic sustainability evaluation and those of suitability evaluation are very similar, in terms of data collection and diagnosis. Insisting on the latter as a prelude to the former should lead to very little duplication of activity, yet ensures that sustainability evaluation is started on a sound foundation. Knowledge that a use is sustainable is unlikely to be encouraging unless the use is known to be well suited to the site in the first place!

Assuming this to be the case, the FESLM approach is to examine the stability of the individual factors that bear most directly on the present suitability. If all are stable, it is reasonable to assume that the use will continue to be suitable into the future. If the factors show signs of instability it becomes a matter for evaluation to determine whether the use, once suited to the site, will remain so.

Establishing the purpose

It will be recalled that the first two levels of the FESLM, call for statements that define the Purpose of the evaluation. These comprise:

1. The Objective: the land use purpose; the location; the scale; and the time period
2. The Means: the means to be employed to achieve the land use purpose

TABLE 1: List of attributes (measured or assumed) that may contribute to the description of a 'land utilization type' (adapted from FAO, 1976, p. 10).


- produce, including goods (eg. crops, livestock, timber), services (eg. recreational facilities) or other benefits (eg. wildlife conservation)

- infrastructure (eg. sawmills, tea factories, agricultural advisory services)

- size and configuration of land holdings; consolidated or fragmented

- land tenure; legal or customary rights to land; by individuals or groups

- income levels; per caput/area/production unit


- capital intensity

- labour intensity

- power sources (eg. human labour, draught animals, fuel-driven machinery)

- technical knowledge and attitudes of land users

- technology employed (eg. Implements and machinery, fertilizers, livestock breeds, farm transport, methods of tree felling, etc.)

The combination of 'objective' and 'means' constitutes a fully defined land use (a 'land utilization type' in FAO Land Evaluation terminology):


The separation between 'objective' and 'means' is made to allow hypothetical changes in the 'means' employed to be tested for their effect on the sustainability of an unchanged objective. This provides flexibility within a single framework (see Chapter 2). The need for such changes may be revealed by the evaluation process itself, and is handled within the FESLM by creating alternative 'Means' statements. Whether the changes call for recognition and evaluation of a new land use depends on the significance of the adjustments made. In any case, the changes would necessitate some re-analysis.

This capacity for changing the terms of reference ('moving the goalposts') whilst the evaluation is in progress is of great importance in increasing the capacity of Action Frameworks to assist local planning and development.

Thus, whilst there is only one 'objective statement' in each Action Framework, there may be several 'means statements' which, by qualifying the objective statement, define alternative forms of land use to be evaluated separately.

Level 1: The objective statement

Level 1: Aim, problems and procedure
Examples of objective statements in local frameworks

Level 1: Aim, problems and procedure

AIM: To provide a concise statement of the evaluation task to be performed - to evaluate the sustainability of land use for a defined purpose, in a defined site, at a defined scale, over a stated time period.

The Objective statement provides the foundation on which each local action framework is built. It can be regarded as 'given' information.

PROBLEM: Knowing what details must be included in the Objective statement. In principle, the objective statement should not be changed without starting a new evaluation. In practice even quite minor changes could lead to confusion. (The 'stated time period' provides an exception to this ban on change. The hoped for 'time period' should be 'pencilled' in before the evaluation starts but in the understanding that it may have to be changed in the light of evaluation findings.)

PROCEDURE: It is the evaluator's job to ensure that the 'Objective statement' is complete and unambiguous. For example, if the land use has multiple purposes, each purpose must be described. In agriculture, all the important crops and other product(s) need to be identified. If production is centred on a particular crop variety, or cultivar, this must be stated (otherwise the choice of variety/cultivar can be included in the 'means statement'). If intercropping or agroforestry is to be evaluated, a similar choice between 'objective' and 'means' statements exists in describing the proportion of the land and of the cropping year occupied by each crop. The decision to be made is: are either of these factors essential to the concept of the use?

If the land use purpose is environmental, industrial, recreational or aesthetic, the aims and circumstances need to be just as carefully considered to ensure the use is fully characterized.

Table 1 lists some of the attributes of 'land utilization types' recognized by FAO in the Framework for Land Evaluation (FAO, 1976). The list provides a useful reminder of the wide range of distinctions that can be drawn between forms of land use. It has been adapted to distinguish those attributes which, at first sight, relate most closely to the Objective statement in the FESLM and those which are descriptive of the Means. It will be apparent that, of the attributes listed, all but the first-'the produce'-could be regarded either as essential to description, of the use (objective) or adaptable (means) depending on local circumstance and interpretative convenience.

Within the Objective statement the location to be evaluated must also be accurately defined. On those rare occasions when the site is a regular shape (eg. a rectangle) location can be defined by grid references (eg. latitude and longitude). More often the complex shape of a location must be shown on some convenient map of adequate scale.

The scale of the evaluation is stated in the form of a representative fraction (eg. 1:5000) which relates to the scale of the principal sources of mapped information used in the evaluation. (NOTE: Every effort will have to be made to ensure that all the data used in the study and in its eventual findings is at a level of detail commensurate with this reported map scale - this is not easy when data as diverse as soils, climate, economics and social information have to be included).

Information on the scales and sources of data used in the evaluation should form a separate section in the final report (see Chapter 6).

Often it will be more satisfactory to delay definition of the time-period until the analysis is completed and the reliability of all the factors of sustainability has been assessed. The client may seek assurance over a longer period but he/she should not be misled.

Examples of objective statements in local frameworks

Example 1. To evaluate the sustainability of a rainfed cropping cycle, primarily for subsistence; with a three year rotation of maize, cowpeas, cassava and five years of bush regrowth fallow; low capital input; hand labour; basic technology; on a 2 ha farm at a location indicated on an available map; over a fifteen year period.

Example 2. To evaluate the sustainability of continuous, rainfed maize cropping for the commercial market; high capital input; high technology; fully mechanized; on a 50 ha rectangular block (Grid Ref: 234.450 to 234.46 W and 100.455 to 100.460 N): over 20 years.

Example 3. To evaluate the sustainability of a nature reserve of mixed temperate forest; intended to maintain the existing range of plant and animal species whilst providing limited recreational facilities; in a 55 km≤ area at a location indicated on an available map; over a 50 year period.

Level 2: The means statement (present use)

Level 2: The aim, problems and procedure
Level 2: The means statement (additional uses)
Undertaking the analysis

Level 2: The aim, problems and procedure

AIM: To describe all aspects of the measures to be used to achieve the ends defined in the Objective statement; including management and organizational practices, technology, inputs and facilities. Together, the given Objective statement and the present Means statement define the first 'Use' to be tested for sustainability.

An evaluation of sustainability will not be meaningful if the definition of the land use investigated does not include an adequate description of the means to be employed.

PROBLEMS: The distinction between 'objective' and 'means' is not as clear cut as it may appear. Some aspects of descriptive information about the use could be at home equally well in either statement Information that crucially describes the nature of the land use purpose should be included in the 'objective' statement. Information on aspects of the approach that could be altered without significantly changing the intention of the use belong best in the 'means' statement.

PROCEDURE: Creating a satisfactory definition of the 'means' may not prove easy-even if the land use is in place to be examined at first hand-for there is always a great variety of aspects of management and physical input that could be described. Choice and definition must focus upon those aspects that are critical to sustainability. These may not be obvious, or easily described.

Table 1 again provides some guidance on attributes to be considered. In the context of the FESLM, special attention needs to be focused on the management practices employed. These practices, against a given socio-economic background, may determine whether or not the land use is sustainable.

In particular, the 'means' description of the FESLM should focus upon practices designed to minimize land degradation:

• erosion control measures (eg. contour ploughing, alley cropping, terracing etc.)

• nutrient control measure (eg. fertilizer regime, green manuring, fallowing, legumes, etc.)

• soil structure control measures (eg. tillage methods, mulch incorporation, land clearing methods etc.)

• moisture control measures (eg. types of irrigation, mulching, water harvesting, drainage methods)

• weed, pest, disease control measures

• reclamation measures (eg. lime, gypsum, ripping, deep ploughing etc.).

The 'means' statement should be selective - a compromise between a truly comprehensive essay (which risks obscuring critical facts amongst unessential details) and a terse telegram (which risks omitting facts that will prove important later).

The following example Means statements (A, B, C) are intended to correspond to the example Objective statements given earlier (1, 2, 3 respectively). Together, these pairs of statements (1A, 2B, 3C) constitute a Goal statement for Use 1. of their respective evaluations.

Example A. Existing management practices and inputs are: a cropping cycle (Yr.1 maize-cowpeas, Yr.2: maize-cowpeas intpl. cassava, Yr.3: cassava, Yr.4-9: fallow regrowth); minor interplanting (eg. melons, peppers) with all crops; land clearance by hand, burnt, soils ridged and tied by hand; planting materials local; up to 100 kg 10-10-8 fertilizer on maize; maize weeded twice, cowpeas once, no pest control; cassava harvested yr. 3 and 4.

Example B. Existing management practices and inputs are: high capital/low labour; tractor drawn trash cutting, mould-board contour ploughing, seedbed preparation; self-propelled harvesting; grassed contour ridges; hybrid seed (KK64x) at 90 000 plants/ha; chemical fungicides and pesticides when required.

Example C. Present practices and facilities are: No forest management; entry protected by game fence and two guarded gates; lakeside recreation area with toilets; two fire breaks (one along power line); 16 km unsurfaced roads, 42 km of bridleway; fire tower (not continuously manned).

Level 2: The means statement (additional uses)

If the present use is found to be unsustainable, the principle causes of instability should be apparent when sustainability analysis is completed. At that stage it will be worth considering whether stability could be increased by changing some aspect of management practice or providing some additional inputs.

For example, if the rate, or threatened rate, of erosion is unacceptable, consideration can be given to the possibility of introducing additional erosion control measures (eg. contour ploughing, contour strips, alley cropping or terracing). If one or more of these measures appears promising, the 'Means' statement is altered to incorporate the new measure and the evaluation is rerun on an hypothetical basis (paying particular attention to cost/benefit aspects). The new Means statement and the new evaluation relates to Use 2. If the new analysis suggests a need for further it may be necessary to consider Use 3, and so on.

If the changes are minor - eg. a small increase in the use of fertilizers or pesticides, or a minor change in the nature or timing of cultivation practices - it may be acceptable to incorporate the change within a recognized use provided that the change is recorded in the 'Means' statement.

Since it will not be possible to test the future effects of any proposed changes, it is essential to ensure that all newly proposed means are in keeping with the general socio-economic conditions of the surrounding area. It would rarely be sensible, for example, to propose the introduction of sophisticated technology in an area with no tradition or support for using such technology.

Undertaking the analysis

It will be recalled (Chapter 2) that the third, fourth and fifth levels of the FESLM relate to the process of Analysis, and comprise:

Level 3: Evaluation Factors
Level 4: Diagnostic Criteria, Cause and effect and observations
Level 5: Indicators and Thresholds.

The first step is to recognize all the factors that are likely to bear upon the sustainability of the use in question in the developing circumstances of the future. The second step is to develop criteria for assessing the stability and significance of each of these factors, alone and in combination, by understanding the causes and effects involved and making such observations as are possible to project the future. Using these criteria, the most significant of the factors ('Indicators') are identified in the third step and their future status in relation to critical levels ('Thresholds') is projected. In the final analysis all this information is brought together to provide an evaluation of probable sustainability ≤.

≤ It is important to recognize that throughout this text, 'suitability', 'sustainability' and 'stability' are
all conceived against a background of achieving and maintaining the five stated 'pillar' requirements of Sustainable Land Management (SLM), namely: Productivity, Security, Protection, Viability and Acceptability (see Chapter 1).

• 'Suitability' measures achievement of all these requirements in the present.
• 'Sustainability' measures the likelihood of their achievement through the future.
• 'Stability' measures the likelihood of changes that will impact on any, or all, of these requirements.

This interpretation elaborates the definition, but does not offend the spirit of 'suitability' in FAO
Land Evaluation. It also ensures that 'stability' is not interpreted in a narrow conservation context
of maintaining the 'statue quo'.

The number of attributes of the human and natural environment which may influence sustainability and require investigation in the FESLM is very great-their variety no less impressive.

Differences in the nature of these influences, and in the kinds of action needed to modify them, is most marked between those which contribute to the natural (physical-biological) environment and those of an economic or social nature. Solely to illustrate the diversity of observations which may signal a threat to sustainability, one can cite: changes in productivity; changes in earthworm population; changes in climate; changes in financial return from labour; changes in the political system; changes in the size of farms or the attitudes of farmers, and many, many other kinds of change.

As explained in Chapter 3, the structure of the FESLM makes provision for this diversity by grouping factors in accordance with the differing specialized expertise required to identify and examine them most effectively. The groups are separated in the vertical columns of a matrix which is conceived to underlie the three lowermost levels of the hierarchy. The groups are then analysed separately, in parallel, through the lower levels before being brought together again in the final analysis.

In the structure shown in Figure 3, four columns separating expertise in the 'Physical', 'Biological', 'Economic' and 'Social' environments are proposed. This arrangement could prove suitable for many Action Frameworks but it is not sacrosanct. Different areas of expertise could be handled separately if circumstances, or the make up of the investigating team, so dictates. For example, experience may show that, in some localities, groups of 'Administrative', or 'Political' factors merit separate analysis (in Figure 3 it is assumed that these factors will be investigated within the Social environment)≥.

≥ The grouping and separation of factors by expert discipline is proposed as a means of increasing efficiency in the early stages of data handling in the FESLM: it is not intended, in any way, to minimize the importance of inter-disciplinary co-operation and multi-disciplinary overview in sustainability evaluation. The crucial importance of interaction between disciplines is recognised in the emphasis placed on cross checking for interactions across the horizontal levels of the matrix (or hierarchy) especially in the validation stages.

The discussion of the separate Analysis levels which follows assumes an FESLM structure as in Figure 3, and is divided by discipline in accordance with the matrix columns as appropriate.

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