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Chapter 2: Concepts, definitions and links

Land and land resources
Environmental resources and natural resources
Land use planning and physical planning
Planning and management
Zoning, resource management domains, allocation
Links between rural, pert-urban and urban land use planning
An integrated approach

The integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources has been identified as a separate programme area of UNCED's Agenda 21 (UNCED, 1993). The relevant text (Chapter 10) is quite short and will benefit from elaboration, to ensure appropriate action is taken by governments and international organizations such as the UN specialized agencies, of which FAO is assigned as Task Manager.

The responsibilities of the Task Manager for each chapter are firstly to prepare periodic reports for the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) on progress towards implementation. Secondly, the Task Manager will work with UN Agencies, national governments and NGOs, to develop a more effective and combined approach to the problems identified in the chapter.

This background paper to the Task Manager's report is intended to provide a basis for a more in-depth discussion on these issues, considering that there have not been major preparatory conferences as in the case of desertification (Chapter 12), forests (Chapter 11), sustainable agricultural development (Chapter 14) and water resources (Chapter 18). In a sense, the present text endeavours to provide a commentary on Chapter 10, supported by explanations of a number of definitions, examples of issues to be solved through an integrated approach, and tools available when planning the use and management of land resources.

The text of Chapter 10 deals with the reorganization and strengthening of decision-making structures and not with the operational aspects of planning and management. The latter figure more prominently as detailed sectoral plans in other programme areas1 of Agenda 21. Thus this paper concentrates on concepts, principles and decision making within an overall framework for sustainable land management. However, as the discussion develops, it may not be possible to avoid some reference to operational or implementation aspects.

1 For instance, paragraphs 5.16-5.66, 7.27-7.29, 12.28-12.29, 13.13-13.17, 14.34-14.38, 14.44-14.47, 18.6-18.12. 18.76. Since Chapter 10 does not deal with the actual management of land, a more appropriate title might be "An integrated approach to planning the use and management of land resources" - denoting the guiding, and in a way overarching, principles for the more sectoral-oriented management of land as discussed in the other chapters.

The need for a separate programme area is brought out in the following extracts from the text (paragraph. 10.1): "the ever-increasing pressures on land resources, creating competition and conflicts and resulting in sub-optimal use of both land and land resources". "Integrated physical and land use planning and management is an eminently practical way to achieve" the resolving of such conflicts and "to move towards more effective and efficient use of the land and its natural resources". Also (paragraph. 10.3), "It is recognized that such integration should take place at two levels, considering on the one hand all environmental, social and economic factors and on the other all environmental and resources components together (i.e. air, water, biota, land and geological and natural resources)".

As shown by these quotations, Chapter 10 makes distinctions between land and land resources, between land use planning and physical planning, between environmental, geological and natural resources, and between planning and management. For each of these, detailed definitions are required.

Land and land resources

As stated in the introduction of Chapter 10, the definition of land used to be: "a physical entity in terms of its topography and spatial nature"; this is often associated with an economic value, expressed in price per hectare at ownership transfer. The broader, integrative or holistic view takes into account the physio-biotic and socio-economic resources of the physical entity as well, and this is obviously the guiding principle of Chapter 10 as a whole. A complete definition2 may therefore be the following one (already used in the documentation for the Convention to Combat Desertification) (UN, 1994):

"Land is a delineable area of the earth's terrestrial surface, encompassing all attributes of the biosphere immediately above or below this surface including those of the near-surface climate the soil and terrain forms, the surface hydrology (including shallow lakes, rivers, marshes, and swamps), the near-surface sedimentary layers and associated groundwater reserve, the plant and animal populations, the human settlement pattern and physical results of past and present human activity (terracing, water storage or drainage structures, roads, buildings, etc.)."

2 (l) This definition conforms to land system units. landscape-ecological units or unites de terroir, as building blocks of a watershed (catchment area) or a phytogeographic unit (biome). The repeated reference to 'land and land resources' of Chapter 10 may be taken to mean: land as well as its individual land components.

(2) The definition of a natural land unit as defined above is distinctive from an administrative unit of land (territoire) which can be of any size (individual holding, municipality, province, state, etc.) and which normally encompasses a number of natural units or parts of them.

(3) The components of the natural land unit can be termed land resources, including physical, bionic, environmental, infrastructural, social and economic components, inasmuch as they are fixed to the land unit.

(4) Included in the land resources are surface and near-surface freshwater resources. Part of these move through successive land units, but then the local flow characteristics can be considered as part of the land unit. The linkages between water and land are so intimate at the management level that the water element cannot be excluded (land as a unit intermixed with water, with its land use in part depending on access to that water, and the unit at the same time affecting the quality and quantity of the passing water). Only the freshwater harnessed in major reservoirs outside the natural land unit, or pumped from rivers at upstream sites, can be considered as a separate resource.

(5) Underground geological resources (oil, gas, ores, precious metals), and deeper geohydrological resources that normally bear no relation to the surface topography such as confined aquifers, are excluded from the group of components of the natural land unit, although it is recognized that some countries consider them as part of individual land ownership (and hence with rights to exploit or sell them).

In this holistic approach, a natural unit of land has both a vertical aspect - from atmospheric climate down to groundwater resources, and a horizontal aspect - an identifiable repetitive sequence of soil, terrain, hydrological, and vegetative or land use elements.

Environmental resources and natural resources

Natural resources, in the context of "land" as defined above, are taken to be those components of land units that are of direct economic use for human population groups living in the area, or expected to move into the area: near-surface climatic conditions; soil and terrain conditions; freshwater conditions; and vegetational and animal conditions in so far as they provide produce. To a large degree, these resources can be quantified in economic terms. This can be done irrespective of their location (intrinsic value) or in relation to their proximity to human settlements (situational value).

Environmental resources are taken to be those components of the land that have an intrinsic value of their own, or are of value for the longer-term sustainability of the use of the land by human populations, either in loco or regional and global. They include biodiversity of plant and animal populations; scenic, educational or research value of landscapes; protective value of vegetation in relation to soil and water resources either in loco or downstream; the functions of the vegetation as a regulator of the local and regional climate and of the composition of the atmosphere; water and soil conditions as regulators of nutrient cycles (C, N. P. K, S), as influencing human health and as a long-term buffer against extreme weather events; occurrence of vectors of human or animal diseases (mosquitoes, tsetse flies, blackflies, etc.). Environmental resources are to a large degree "non-tangible" in strictly economic terms.

In the framework of an integrated, holistic approach to land use planning, the distinction is somewhat artificial, as environmental resources are part of the set of natural resources. However, it still serves to group the tangible from the non-tangible components, and the directly beneficial at local level from the indirectly beneficial components of human life support systems. In the context of Chapter 10, both groups should receive equal attention.

Accepting the broad definition of land as including "human settlement patterns", a third important set of resources has to be taken into account. The set of social or human resources should be defined in terms of density of population groups, their occupational activities, their land rights, their sources of income, the standard of living of households, gender aspects, etc.

Land use planning and physical planning

For the purposes of this discussion physical planning is the designing of the optimal physical infrastructure of an administrative land unit, such as transport facilities - roads, railways, airports, harbours; industrial plants and storage of produce; mining and power generation, and facilities for towns and other human settlements - in anticipation of population increase and socio-economic development, and taking into account the outcome of land use zoning and planning. It has both rural and urban development aspects, though the latter usually predominates.

Physical planning is normally carried out by the state, or by local government organizations for the general good of the community. The purpose is to take a more nearly holistic or overall view of the development of an area than can or would be taken by individuals. Physical planning has two main functions: to develop a rational infrastructure, and to restrain the excesses of individuals in the interests of the community as a whole. This latter function usually leads to physical planning being associated with a system of laws and regulations.

Land use planning should be a decision-making process that "facilitates the allocation of land to the uses that provide the greatest sustainable benefits" (Agenda 21, paragraph 10.5). It is based on the socio-economic conditions and expected developments of the population in and around a natural land unit. These are matched through a multiple goal analysis and assessment of the intrinsic value of the various environmental and natural resources of the land unit. The result is an indication of a preferred future land use, or combination of uses. Through a negotiation process with all stakeholders, the outcome is decisions on the concrete allocation of land for specific uses (or non-uses) through legal and administrative measures, which will lead eventually to implementation of the plan.

As considered in Chapter 10, land use planning is mainly related to rural areas, concentrating on the use of the land in the broadest agricultural context (crop production, animal husbandry, forest management/silviculture, inland fisheries, safeguarding of protective vegetation and biodiversity values). However. pert-urban areas are also included where they directly impinge on rural areas, through expansion of building construction onto valuable agricultural land and the consequent modification of land uses in the adjoining rural areas.

Planning and management

As stated before, land resources planning is the process of evaluation of options and subsequent decision-making which precedes implementation of a decision or plan.

Land resources management, in its narrow sense is the actual practice of using the land by the local human population, which should be sustainable (FAO/Netherlands, 1991; see Box 1). The detailed operational aspects of such sustainable management are dealt within other chapters of Agenda 21: Chapters 7, 12, 13, 14, 18, etc.

In a broader sense - as obviously meant in Chapter 10 - land resources management is the implementation of land use planning, as agreed between and with the direct participation of stakeholders. It is achieved through political decisions; legal, administrative and institutional execution; demarcation on the ground; inspection and control of adherence to the decisions; solving of land tenure issues; settling of water rights; issuing of concessions for plant and animal extraction (timber, fuel wood, charcoal and peat, non-wood products, hunting); promotion of the role of women and other disadvantaged groups in agriculture and rural development in the area, and the safeguarding of traditional rights of early indigenous peoples.

Zoning, resource management domains, allocation

The term "zoning" is not mentioned in Chapter 10, yet it is one of the products of land resources planning used in the Task Manager's Report as well as in a number of national approaches. It therefore warrants a definition.

Sustainable agriculture and rural has been defined by, FAO as "....the management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development (in agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors) conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable, and socially acceptable".

Box 1: Definition of sustainability (FAO/Netherlands Den Bosch Conference (1991))

For many years zoning has been used for ensuring land use control in urban and pert-urban areas. More recently it has also become associated with delineation of rural ecological units, as in FAO's Agro-Ecological Zones (AEZ) Project (see Box 2).

In the urban planning sphere the word is commonly used in a prescriptive sense; for example, the allocation of pert-urban land for specific uses such as housing, light industry, recreation, horticulture or animal big-industry, in each case with the appropriate legal restrictions to land markets.

In the original agro-ecologic zoning concept the word denotes an earlier stage of rural planning. It is a subdivision of the rural lands on the basis of physical and biological characteristics (climate, soils, terrain forms, land cover, and to a degree the water resources), and is used as a tool for agricultural land use planning. At regional inter-country level, it was one of the tools to assess the potential human population supporting (or "carrying") capacity of a country. This is inasmuch as it depends on the producing capacity of the land at different levels of input and technology, discounting industrial, trade or mining activities. In this sense also the zoning was adopted by the CGIAR system of international agricultural research for its new ecoregional approach.

The AEZ methodology has been refined by FAO for within-country level zoning applications (Mozambique, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, and currently China and the Amazon region), where socio-economic conditions have also been taken into account. These conditions figure even more prominently in the programmes for (agro-)Ecological and (socio-)Economic Zoning EEZ - of whole and mainly natural ecosystems, such as the Amazon forest region or "biome" (Sombroek, 1994). In these latter two cases, the zoning sensu strictu is a delineation of areas of rural lands, which could be earmarked for one or another use or non-use, based on identical physio-biotic conditions and prevailing socio-economic infrastructure. The resulting units can be defined as Resource Management Domains, RMDs, defined as areas within a broad physio-biotic zone that have at present the same socio-economic conditions.

The above zoning does not include legal or administrative decisions on future land use, which is the subject of land use allocation. It consists of a series of processes that take place after the zoning sensu strictu. Important procedures will involve political decisions connected with choosing between alternative options presented in a plan after negotiation with all stakeholders; identification of land rights and solving any resulting conflicts; legal, administrative and institutional execution; demarcation on the ground; and effective control of adherence to the decisions taken.

From very early times, for example in China, and in the nineteenth century in several European countries land owners were taxed on the value of their land, based upon its productivity anal agricultural value. This value was assessed on the basis of experience, which in turn was based on such factors as quantity and distribution of rainfall, slope, and depth and type of soil. In 1961 the US Department of Agriculture published the Land Capability Classification, which divides land into eight Classes on the basis of soil and climatic limitations. Suitability in this case meant that the land could be safely used for the purposes listed without permanent damage. The system was widely adopted in many countries for land evaluation purposes.

In 1976 FAO published A Framework For Land Evaluation. The Framework defines land units in terms of their characteristics (measurable factors such as slope, soil texture; rainfall, etc.), and qualities (effects such as temperature regime, moisture availability, which result from a combination of characteristics), matches them with potential uses defined in terms of the requirements of such uses, and then rates the land in terms of suitability for the use. A use could not be rated as suitable unless it was sustainable. The Framework, and a number of subsequent publications, provide fairly exhaustive lists of land characteristics and land qualities.

The initial Agro-Ecological Zones project and population supporting capacity study was carried out between 1978 and 1982 and covered Africa, Asia, and South America. Since then the method has been considerably developed, and applied at country level, for example in Kenya and China. Training workshops have recently been arranged in Nigeria, Syria and Thailand.

The first step in the AEZ procedure is the preparation of a digitized land resources map on which is superimposed agroclimatic information, in particular rainfall, temperature and potential evapo-transpiration. The combined data is then used to identify individual land/climate units on basis of length of growing season determined by moisture availability. Potential yields for crops are then calculated, taking into account temperature, day length, and other climatic limitations, and site and soil limitations, at different levels of input. The result is predicted yield as a percentage of potential yield.

The method has been elaborated to cover a wide range of crops, tree and grass species, and animal production types, using different production systems. Predicted soil loss has been modelled for each use and production system combination. Human population supporting capacities of the land, on the basis of different food security scenarios and levels of input, are also calculated. AEZ has recently been linked to CAPPA, a computerized system for agricultural planning and policy analysis.

All of the above systems represent progressively more systematic attempts to predict the performance of different types or units of land under different crops and production systems, or to calculate potential output and human carrying capacity under different policy and management scenarios.

Box 2: Land evaluation; a brief historical perspective.

Links between rural, pert-urban and urban land use planning

Having established that Chapter 10 focuses on rural land use planning, it should be realized that there are important links with human settlements in general and the needs of urban centres in particular. For example, these are apparent in the seven programme areas of Chapter 7 of Agenda 21, for which UNCHS (Habitat) is the Task Manager for UN System involvement. Synergies need to be developed between urban and rural land use planning and apparent antagonisms need to be resolved through platforms for decision making. These will be wherever stakeholders in urban and rural development can meet and resolve their differences for the benefit of the common welfare. A listing of synergies and antagonisms between urban and rural land resources use is given in Box 3.

URBAN needs

RURAL needs

Prevention of mass-influx of rural poor

Availability of labour for agricultural activities (cropping, forestry, fisheries)

Potentially synergistic: socio-economic support mechanisms for stable and equitable income of rural population

Affordable food, especially for the poorer segments of the urban population

Substantial and stable market for agricultural produce, at above-cost prices

Antagonistic: food aid from outside the country
Synergistic: promotion of credit and markets for locally produced food

Good access/communications with the hinterland (transport of raw materials; tourism)

Good access/communication with the urban centres (transport of agricultural inputs and outputs)


Energy from water reservoirs

Rural water resources for irrigation, agricultural produce processing

Antagonistic: flooding of agricultural or forest land by reservoirs
Synergistic: water storage for both energy and irrigation

Steady and good quality water supply for human and industrial use

As above, and disposal of agricultural drainage water (salinity; some excess fertilizer input, pesticides, etc.)

Antagonistic: limitation of water quantity for upstream rural use; degradation of water quality for downstream urban use
Synergistic: afforestation; more efficient agricultural inputs use

Household fuel (charcoal) and wood-based shelter materials (timber)

Vegetative protection of upper catchments and river banks to prevent degradation of agri- cultural land

Antagonistic, unless effective land market control
Synergistic: afforestation and protection of vulnerable ecosystems

Disposal of solid and liquid waste and storm water

Protection of valuable natural ecosystems; replenishment of plant nutrients stock

Antagonistic: degradation of down stream agro-ecosystems
Synergistic: reuse of treated waste on pert-urban agricultural lands

Expansion of settlement and industrial area and (peri) urban infrastructure (harbours, airports) and associated free land markets

Protection of prime agricultural- land and safe agricultural land tenure in pert-urban areas

Antagonistic, unless effective land market control

Box 3. Antagonism and synergism between urban and rural land resources use.

Environmental health planning as specified in Chapter 6 of Agenda 21, with WHO as Task Manager within the UN system, can and should be fully interlinked with rural land use planning. The elimination of vector-borne diseases should go hand in hand with rural development and in many cases precede it. The occurrence of such diseases is still prevalent in many developing countries of the tropics and subtropics and has been mapped in a major publication of WHO (WHO, 1989).

The Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) has, over a period of 20 years, successfully eliminated the transmission of Onchocerca volvulus, causing river blindness over an area of 764000 km2 in West Africa, thereby protecting a population of 20 million. During the programme's implementation, the coverage was extended to 1.3 million km2, and efforts to eliminate transmission among an additional 10 million people are well underway. The main strategy of OCP continues to be control of the vector, the blackfly Simulium damnosum, by applying environment-friendly insecticides to rapids and other white water sites (the breeding places of the vector) in some 50000 km of rivers. This strategy is, since the late 1980s, complemented by the use of ivermectin, a drug that kills the microfilarial state of the parasite.

Prior to the start of OCP, river blindness was a major obstacle to agricultural development of large extents of fertile river valleys. Opening these lands for development was and continues to be a major objective of the programme. On completion of OCP operations in 1997, some 25 million hectares of riverine land will be available for resettlement and cultivation.

This creates a unique opportunity to put into practice the principles of an integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources, as contained in Chapter 10 of Agenda 21. In anticipation the World Bank convened a conference in Paris in March 1994, where high-level delegation from the OCP countries (including some heads of State and ministers) met together with representatives of the four sponsoring UN agencies (UNDP, World Bank, FAO and WHO) and of bilateral agencies. The elements of a strategy for die sustainable resettlement and development of OCP areas were agreed upon and have been presented to the Joint Programme Committee of OCP at its XVth session in Yamoussoukro, 28 November-l December 1994.

Box 4: The Onchocerciasis Control Programme In West Africa

Malaria control is an essential pre-requisite for a healthy rural community anywhere in the world. Sustainable development of rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa has been hampered by infestations such as the tsetse fly, causing sleeping sickness in humans and domestic animals, and the blackfly causing river blindness (see box 5). There are new and promising biological methods of eradicating tsetse fly infestations, and the blackfly has been eliminated in large parts of West Africa by concentrated efforts of an international consortium led by the World Bank, in close collaboration with the Governments that are directly concerned (see box 4). Such disease control measures now provide unique opportunities for national planning agencies, supported by international institutions and donor countries, to carry out integrated approaches to land resources planning in these hitherto sparsely populated areas.

The control of vector-borne diseases in general is being promoted internationally by a WHO-FAO-UNEP-Habitat Joint Panel of Experts on Environmental Management for Vector Control (PEEM), established in 1981. The many publications and other activities implemented by PEEM share as an essential element the intersectoral approach to environmental health issues associated with natural resources development in both rural, per-urban and urban spheres.

BOX 5. Map showing geographical distribution of Onchocerciasis in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula

FAO runs major programmes in collaboration with member countries concerned with the control of diseases and pests in managed ecosystems such as the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme in rice growing areas, the control of locust swarms in North Africa and the Near East, and the eradication of diseases including foot and mouth and screw worm in animal herds (EMPRES).

An integrated approach

Integration, or "the act of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole" (Collins English dictionary) refers to all parts that make up a land unit as defined before. In combination with the word "approach", it should also refer to participatory and comprehensive cooperation between all institutions and groups at national, provincial and local levels - all "parts", partners or stakeholders - that relate to and deal with land resources planning and the management of such planning.

Chapter 10 of Agenda 21 calls for mechanisms aiming to promote a constructive and productive dialogue between the full range of stakeholders. These include ministries, provincial and municipal government departments and their policy development entities, research and resources data base development institutes such as a topographic service or statistics institutes, parastatal organizations in the executive sphere such as national irrigation boards or town water supply companies, and public-interest organizations (NGOs) at both national and local level, such as nature conservation societies, farmers associations and community groups.

This implies the need to create an enabling environment in the legislative and administrative sphere, leading to negotiation platforms for decision making at all relevant levels, to solve conflicting demands on the use of the land, or components of it, such as freshwater resources. These platforms should both be horizontal between ministries, provincial or municipal governing bodies, and vertical between governing bodies and local, actual or potential users of the land resources, all together linking in both top-down and bottom-up directions.

It should be realized that such integrative platforms, to be successful, require much time, patience and goodwill. Only with these attributes will they overcome bureaucracy and the historical barriers that have been erected between sectoral institutions that may be blinkered by tunnel vision. A fully integrated approach may be worth the effort only if the conflicting demands on the land concerned are seemingly intractable, as exemplified in Chapter 4 of this paper. If the optimal and sustainable land use is readily apparent, for instance forest conservation in upper river catchments, established national parks or indigenous reserves, then overmuch time need not be spent on ensuring full integration of all interested parties, in order to make good use of human resources.

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