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Chapter 3: Elements to be considered

Land tenure, land rights and land markets
Land users and other stakeholders
Qualities and limitations of land for different uses
Sustainability indicators

The process of land use planning and its implementation, which is land use management as defined above, hinges on three elements: the stakeholders, the quality or limitations of each component of the land unit, and the viable land use options in the area. In a more technical sense the factors of planning are: the amount of land available and its tenure; the quality, potential productivity and suitability of the land; the level of technology used to exploit the land resources, the population density, and the needs and standards of living of the people. Each of these factors interacts with the others.

Land tenure, land rights and land markets

In the real world there are many actual or potential conflicts with respect to land among different owners, claimants, actual land users and otherwise affected persons and communities. Clarification and security of land rights are essential for the success of an integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources. Settling these rights reduces conflicts between stakeholders, increases the confidence required for sustainable land use practices by the actual land cultivators or protectors, determines the respective responsibilities, and provides the basis for a fair and environmentally-sound allocation of incentives, subsidies or taxes.

Land tenure has many forms:

• legal ownership, as confirmed in cadastral ledgers and title deeds, without actual use of the land ("absentee" land holding purely for investment purposes);

• legal ownership with use, or the requirement to use the land in a specified or prescribed way;

• legal ownership by a physical person or an institutional body but with agreed use by other person(s), providing usufructuary rights;

• state land with defined use or non-use such as national parks or nature reserves;

• state land with "squatters" rights, i.e. the right to own a defined area of land after new occupants have been earning their living on parts of the land during a number of years;

• state lands with formal concessions to persons or companies to extract biotic or mineral resources (e.g. logging, mining) whether or not with the requirement to restore the land cover or land surface conditions;

• state, provincial or municipal land with archaeological or cultural heritage value, needing full-scale protection or limitations on its use;

• communal lands, vested in traditional rights of indigenous groups or early occupants of the land, such as hunters or gatherers of products of non-allocated lands;

• communal lands with traditional agreements between the settled population and transhumance groups about the seasonal use of the land, or portions of it (dry season rights for nomadic herdsmen; right of crossing); and

• lands with rights of intergenerational transfer of ownership or lease holdership, and a degree of freedom in subdividing the land rights among sons and daughters, such as to first-born only or to all children, following a land succession system.

As stated before, "land" in the context of Chapter 10 includes the local, unharnessed water resources. Especially in dryland situations there are many water use-related land rights. These include access to water for drinking water supply and sanitation, for use in irrigated agriculture including water harvesting and for the watering of cattle. In both dryland and humid environments there are moreover fishing rights, as well as entitlements to use water for the processing of primary agricultural produce, such as coffee, kenaf, sisal, jute, hides and skins. If well organized, such rights are linked to duties to avoid pollution of the water resources, as these would be detrimental to their subsequent use by other stakeholders in the same land unit or downstream.

All rights have to be taken into account in a judicious manner during execution of any land resources plan. They first have to be carefully inventoried, checked against their fairness and their consistency in relation to the overall policy on land tenure of the national or provincial government. These policies are laid down in Agrarian Reform Laws, Land Tenure Acts, Land Acquisition Acts, Land Titling Acts, Freehold Leases and Customary laws and regulations in communal tenure. The latter are often at village level and include the joint ownership of natural forests, individual stands of trees, water bodies and watering points. They often go with well-defined regulations and social controls, which seek to protect local natural resources and to avoid a monopoly by individuals at the expense of the community.

Efficient natural resources tenure (NRT) systems have to be developed, which can solve the often conflicting though not necessarily exclusive objectives of economic growth (output), equity (fair access to all, including gender equality), tenure security, and land resources improvement and conservation.

A comprehensive assessment of land tenure and land rights should also include an inventory of land markets (Amani et al., 1994). This entails the socio-economic characteristics of the buyers and the sellers of land, and the geographic distribution of land markets. It will examine what rights are being involved precisely; for what purpose is buying done (productive, speculations, hedge against inflation, residential purposes); for what reason are people selling (emergency, immediate survival, moving, cash-in on an investment, compulsion); and how the land markets influence land-use patterns, land productivity, land scarcity and conditions of fragile environments.

National, provincial and local governments may want to levy fees on certain land allocation mechanisms, including formal or informal land market transactions in rural or pert-urban areas. Alternatively, they may place limitations on the leasing, owning, buying or selling of land by non-nationals or foreign companies, if this is perceived to be detrimental to equitable land use or conservation. They may also provide incentives, such as subsidies or infrastructural works, to ensure more equitable, productive or conservational use of the land. Existing incentives may be abolished if they have been proven to be detrimental to such use. An example of this is subsidies for "valorization" of forest land, by converting it into pasture land.

For the sake of completeness it should be mentioned that in many societies certain land and open-water bodies also have cultural, historical or even religious values. Such values are difficult to quantify in economic terms, but cannot be discarded in any harmonious decision-making process seeking to determine the future use or non-use of the land concerned.

Land users and other stakeholders

The stakeholders, or interested parties, are individuals, communities or governments that have a traditional, current or future right to co-decide on the use of the land. A listing of stakeholders is given below, with each of them having its own goals and priorities.

Regional intergovernmental cooperation entities, such as the Amazon Cooperation Treaty system. They are intended to ensure a harmonious conservation and development of, for example, an international river basin or a phytogeographic region.

National or federal governments. They have strategic interests such as physical security over the land through ensuring natural human occupation of the whole of their sovereign territory; promotion of commodities for export or internal food security; energy development; settlement of excess population from other parts of the country; control of precious minerals or drug production and trafficking.

State or provincial governments, as well as district or municipal authorities. They have a direct responsibility for the well-being of the human population within their administrative boundaries; they may either want to stimulate or to dissuade human settlements in rural areas (e.g. produce versus ecotourism), but in general will need to raise revenues for part of their administrative functions.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), promoting one or more specific goals. They may be public interest goals, such as the green movements that care about the maintenance of ecological or historical values; business-interest NGOs, such as mining companies, energy-generating companies or the fertilizer industry; scientific-interest NGOs that study the long-term effects of land cover and land-use changes; grass-roots NGOs that strive for socially-equitable sustainable development of their own local community or environmental conservation areas; and religion-inspired NGOs that are concerned about spiritual and social well-being of rural or pert-urban population groups or the conservation of holy places.

Individual title deed or concession holders of large tracts of the land using it for productive or conservational purposes.

Long-existing rural communities, with communal or individual ownership of land that is or should be of sufficient size to ensure basic livelihood.

Landless people and autonomous groups of migrants that seek to eke out a living, permanently or temporarily, on as yet unoccupied or under-utilized land (squatters, forest product gatherers, fishermen, small-scale miners) or who wish to be hired as labourers in rural or pert-urban enterprises.

Urban communities in the area, or tourists, seeking rural recreational facilities.

Any original inhabitants of the region, wishing to conserve their traditional ways of living and land-holding rights, and to use their legalized or claimed territorial rights on their own terms.

To those who have access to it, land is a resource used to satisfy needs. The immediate priorities of a peasant farmer may be to produce food and income. His or her land use decisions will be taken in such a way so as to optimize achievement of these objectives. When making decisions the farmers take into account the characteristics of the land, their available resources, and economic factors such as the availability of markets.

The objectives of the individual farmer, fisherman or forester's family, particularly if poor, and even those of commercial farmers, tend to be short-term in nature. Future benefits tend to have a low priority, though secure ownership and associated emotional identification with the land resource will stretch the priority horizon. To be successfully adopted, agricultural development programmes must meet families objectives, and must include procedures to take full account of the social and economic factors of the environment within which they make their decisions. An enabling environment for such decisions to be sustainable in its use by future generations includes many factors, with the first and foremost being the existence of secure land tenure of an adequate size to provide intergenerational family livelihood.

The wider community up to national level is also a land user in the sense that land is required for urban use, for all kinds of facilities, for industry, and for recreation. At this level primary goals may be to raise standards of living and feed the population. The objectives of the nation tend to be long-term; to preserve natural resources for the future. There is therefore frequently a basic dichotomy of interest between the objectives of the actual land user and those of the community to which he or she belongs. The community - be it local, provincial or national - will frequently try to influence the way land is used, either by extension programmes, subsidies or laws. However, most land use decisions are made by millions of individual land users. The art of the land use planner or agricultural development expert is to identity improved and sustainable land uses which optimize the objectives of the individual land user as well as those of the community.

It is worth noting that governments and populations in neighbouring and other countries, or in the world as a whole, may also have an interest in how land is used. This is the case where pollution or other harmful effects are exported from one country to another, or where activities in one country, or a group of countries or regions, are affecting global systems to the detriment of us all.

Qualities and limitations of land for different uses

The evaluation of the land and planning for different actual or potential uses requires a series of steps, as follows:

(i) in collaboration with the stakeholders, the establishment of achievable goals and objectives, framed within an enabling policy environment for sustainable land use;

(ii) the identification and delineation of land, on the basis of comparable physio-biotic characteristics (climate, elevation, landforms, soils, hydrology), into natural land units or zones;

(iii) the assessment of the inherent land qualities, and their constraints and opportunities, of the identified land units, of which Box 6 gives examples;

(iv) the identification and characterization of the present forms of land cover or land use per land unit or land zone;

(v) the identification of prospective land utilization types or production systems in accordance with the wishes of the stakeholders;

(vi) the identification of the physio-biotic and socio-economic requirements of the agreed land utilization types;

(vii) the matching of the inherent land qualities of (iii) with the requirements of the utilization types of (vi);

(viii) the formulation of alternative land uses or non-use per land unit or zone as a result of (vii);

(ix) the assessment of the alternative land uses against the needs and aspirations of all population groups (to be) involved and affected, through the use of platforms for negotiation and decision making that include all stakeholders;

(x) the decision to proceed with one acceptable and recommended land use; and

(xi) the identification of policies, strategies and measures to be taken to move from the current to the recommended land use and with the active participation of all stakeholders.

It is noted that a distinction is made between land cover and land use. The former is the observed cover of the land as seen on the ground or by remote sensing; it comprises the vegetation (natural or planted) and any human constructions which occur on the earth's surface. Open water bodies, ice, bare rock, mobile sands and similar surfaces are included.


A1 Atmospheric moisture supply: rainfall length of growing season, evaporation, dew formation.
A2 Atmospheric energy for photosynthesis: temperature, daylength, sunshine conditions;
A3 Atmospheric conditions for crop ripening, harvesting and land preparation: occurrence of dry spells.


C1 Value of the standing vegetation as "crop", such as timber..

C2 Value of the standing vegetation as germ plasm: biodiversity value (intra-specific variability and number of species).

C3 Value of standing vegetation as protection against degradation of soils and catchment area.

C4 Value of the standing vegetation as regulator of local and regional climatic conditions.

C5 Regeneration capacity of the vegetation after complete removal.

C6 Value of the standing vegetation as shelter for crops and cattle against adverse atmospheric influences.

C7 Hindrance of vegetation at introduction of crops and pastures: the land "development" costs.

C8 Incidence of above ground pests and vectors of diseases: health risks to humans and animals.


T1 Surface receptivity as seedbed: the filth condition.

T2 Surface treadability: the bearing capacity for cattle, machinery, etc.

T3 Surface limitations for the use of implements stoniness, stickiness, the arability.

T4 Spatial regularity of soil and terrain pattern, determining size and shape of fields with a capacity for uniform management.

T5 Surface liability to deformation: the occurrence or hazard of wind and water erosion.

T6 Accessibility of the land: the degree of remoteness from means of transport..

T7 Surface water storage capacity of the terrain: the presence or potential of ponds? on-farm reservoirs, bunds, etc.

T8 Surface propensity to yield runoff water, for local water harvesting or downstream water supply.

T9 Accumulation position of the land: degree of fertility renewal or crop damage by overflow or overblow.


S1 Physical soil fertility the net moisture storage capacity in the rootable zone.

S2 Physical soil toxicity: the presence or hazard of waterlogging in the rootable zone or the absence of oxygen.

S3 Chemical soil fertility; the availability of plant nutrients.

S4 Chemical soil toxicity: salinity or salinization hazard; excess of exchangeable sodium.

S5 Biological soil fertility: the N-fixation capacity of the soil biomass; and its capacity for soil organic matter turnover.

S6 Biological soil toxicity the presence or hazard of soil-borne pests and diseases.


U1 Groundwater level and quality in relation to (irrigated) land use.
U2 Substratum potential for water storage (local use) and conductance (downstream use).
U3 Presence of unconfined freshwater aquifers.
U4 Substratum (and soil profile) suitability for foundation works (buildings, roads, canals, etc.).
U5 Substratum (and soil profile) as source of construction materials.
U6 Substratum (and soil profile) as source of minerals.

Box 6: Land Qualities in the Agricultural Sphere

Land use concerns the function or purpose for which land is used by the local human population and can be defined as "the human activities which are directly related to land, making use of its resources or having an impact on them". Data on the sequence and type of activities, the inputs (labour, capital, water, fertilizer, etc.), and resulting outputs (type of produce, and length of the cropping cycle) permit precise definitions of a land use, economic and environmental impact analysis, and modelling of the effects of modification of the land use, or its substitution by another land use.3

3 FAO, in collaboration with ITC in The Netherlands, has developed, and tested in the field, software designed to collect and analyse this information. FAO and UNEP. in cooperation with several specialized institutes, are developing manuals for the inventory and characterization of actual land use. applying an international framework for its classification (Table 1).

Another distinction to be made is between land characteristics, land properties and land qualities.

Land characteristics are those attributes of the land that help in identifying natural land units. Land properties are single attributes of the land that connote a certain behaviour. A land quality is a complex or compound attribute of the land which acts in a manner distinct, and largely independent, from the actions of other land qualities in its influence on the suitability of land for a specified kind of use (FAO, 1976). Note should be made though that in recent American literature 'land quality' is being used as a single indicator of the overall value of land, such as high-quality vs. low-quality land. Land qualities can also be defined in negative terms, as "land limitations". An illustrative listing of potentially relevant land qualities is given in Box 6. This listing is mainly referring to the vertical components of land units. One should still add land qualities or limitations that are the consequence of the horizontal pattern of landscape elements.

In order to define the degree of suitability, the requirements of potential uses need to be defined in the same terms. For example, an important land quality may be soil moisture storage capacity. Potential uses would then be defined in terms of their soil moisture requirements, in terms of amount, distribution, etc. Rapid evaluations may be carried out qualitatively, or on the basis of suitability classes. However, increasing use is being made of mathematical models, in particular for crop yield predictions and land degradation assessments, in support of quantitative land evaluations.

Sustainability indicators

All land use planning should result in local land uses that are sustainable. The systematic assessment of sustainability of current or planned land uses is in its infancy. Many groups of researchers are trying to define sustainability indicators and to devise methods to monitor them in field conditions. The latter could be done on the basis of a system of periodic observation at representative sites of local, national or even global level, with remote sensing techniques to extrapolate the findings over the whole of the land cover or land use system or type. The latter is the aim of a proposed Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS), at present in the planning phase by FAO, ICSU/IGBP, UNEP, UNESCO and WMO.

TABLE 1 An initial approach to an international framework for classification of land uses

Level I

Level II

Level III

Degree of modification of the ecosystem

Functional land use

Biophysical land use

Uses based on naturalecosystems

Not used


Total conservation
Partial conservation


Plant products

Animal products

Plant and animal products

Uses based on mixed natural andecosystems livestock


Forest products, cropping, managed and aquaculture on same holding

Uses based on managed ecosystems

Production forestry

Management of natural forests

Management of planted forests

Livestock production

Nomadic grazing

Extensive grazing

Intensive livestock production

Confined livestock production

Arable cropping

Shifting cultivation

Sedentary cultivation, temporary cropping

Sedentary cultivation, permanent cropping

Wetland cultivation

Covered crop production

Mixed livestock and crop production

Fisheries production



Settlement and related uses


Mineral extraction








Uses restricted by security


Note: with land use phases on irrigated land use, type and sequence of crops, intensity of inputs, etc.

Sustainability indicators can be of many kinds: physio-biotic or socio-economic. Depending on the type of land use or non-use, and analogous to the listing of land qualities, physio-biotic indicators can be mainly land cover related (constancy of the natural vegetation structure or of its biodiversity), land surface related (absence of wind or water erosion, constancy of runoff), soil quality related (absence of human-induced salinization, acidification, compaction or loss of soil biologic activity) and substratum related (absence of human-induced waterlogging or pollution, constancy of depth and quality of groundwater).

Among the socio-economic sustainability indicators one can use the absence of rural migrations to urban centres, the stability or increase in rural labour opportunities for all of working age, the constancy or increase in primary school attendance, the maintenance of food sufficiency and well-balanced diets, stable herd structures in grazing areas, the absence or decrease of unhealthy conditions within rural population groups, harmonious relations between different land users over use issues, or simply the constancy or increase of per caput produce from the land as recorded in agricultural statistics per village, district, province or country (though this may mask unsustainability in parts of the area concerned). Ecoregional differentiation of the set of useful sustainability indicators, as under development by the World Bank and CGIAR centres and other specialized institutions, is probably a feasible approach.

A Working Group that has devised a framework for evaluating sustainable land management (FESLM) (FAO, 1993a) has identified useful indicators of sustainable agriculture. They are those that reflect environmental changes important to the continuing success of specific forms of land use, show steady responses to environmental change, are a clear measure of a cause having a well understood effect, and can be measured and expressed in numerical terms.

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