This report is ostensibly about land quality indicators (LQIs). However, anyone who reads it will find a useful compilation of advice, experience and opinion on why land quality information is important for sustainable development and how it can be used more effectively for planning and decision making. But the report also poses as many questions as it answers, which in itself reflects the diversity of viewpoints on indicators.
The LQI programme is a joint initiative of FAO, UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank aimed at assisting planners and policy-makers in countries to make better use of their existing information on land quality and to promote more systematic data and information collection.
There remain important questions which are unresolved. How to respond to the diverse data needs of different user groups (from farmers to politicians); the need for better understanding of linkages among biophysical, social and economic indicators; how to address issues of data aggregation, gaps in coverage, and poor data quality. Many of these will probably remain with us for some time, awaiting more research and country experience.
Ms. Schomaker provides a useful overview of some of the issues relating to the use of indicators and Mr. Dumanski lays out the main elements and challenges involved in successfully implementing a land quality indicators programme at the international level.
Mr. Shaxson's paper is revealing for the very distinct and different perspectives of the farmer and the policy-maker. He makes a persuasive argument that, in the end, it is the person on the land who decides how to use it and will manage the land more carefully if he or she can experience the benefits of good land management through improved understanding and use of indicators.
A final element in the report will be found in the papers by Mr. Sombroek and by Mr. Brinkman which mention the concept of resource management domains (RMD). Although not described in detail, RMDs have strong appeal as a means for overcoming the disciplinary boundaries that limit progress in developing indicators of sustainability. They offer a framework for delineating geographic areas based on identifiable biosphysical, social and economic characteristics. The areas can be village territories, a large-scale irrigation area, an undeveloped land area or may cross boundaries. Beyond the ability to link and display spatially different types of information, one attraction is that a number of the tools required for doing this type of analysis are already in hand. We hope that future work on LQIs can report on progress in applying the RMD concept.
Unfortunately, it was not possible in this report to include papers on FAO work under way with respect to sustainable forest management indicators and the rural development database that is being compiled. These are two essential components of land quality and, hopefully, this gap can be filled as the work progresses.
Stein Bie, Director
Research, Extension and Training Division
Robert Brinkman, Director,
Land and Water Development Division