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Land resources planning

The challenges of population growth, increasing demands on limited and already depleted resources by diverse actors, land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change require a rational approach to resource use that sustains and enhances productivity and maintains ecosystem resilience. 

Land resource planning (also called land-use planning) is a tool for achieving sustainable and efficient resource use, taking into account biophysical and socio-economic dimensions. It is the systematic assessment of land potential and land-use alternatives for achieving optimal land uses and improved socio-economic conditions through a participatory multisectoral, multistakeholder and scale-dependent process. The purpose of land resource planning is to support decision-makers and land users in selecting and putting into practice land uses that best meet the needs of people while safeguarding natural resources and ecosystem services for current and future generations. The tools and methods used in land resource planning should assist the diverse and often competing users of land resources to select land-use and management options that increase productivity, support sustainable agriculture and food systems, promote the improved governance of land and water resources, and meet society’s needs. 

There are five interconnected principles for the transition to sustainable food and agriculture : 1) improving efficiency in the use of resources; 2) natural resource conservation; 3) improving rural livelihoods; 4) enhancing resilience; and 5) governance. Land resource planning can integrate the three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social and environmental – at different scales and for competing uses of natural resources. (Building a Common Vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture: Principles and Approaches. FAO, 2014)

Land-use planning is part of the integrated land resource management continuum, which starts with an assessment of the land resource base (land evaluation) and the identification of needs and challenges and is followed by the selection and implementation of optimum SLM approaches and decision-support systems, from farm to landscape to the national level, and the monitoring and assessment of impacts to inform decision-makers and stakeholders. The process is scale-dependent and integrates multiple stakeholders and sectors. The guiding principles are that people should be at the centre of the process and that governance and enabling policies and institutions support the realization of the land-use plan. 

Figure: Integrated land resources planning and management

FAO supports the development and dissemination of tools and information to meet the needs of stakeholders and decision-makers at different levels and in different sectors. If decision-makers are to address the challenges and drivers of change and promote effective and sustainable responses, they need up-to-date tools and approaches for participatory land resource planning that take into account biophysical, economic, socio-cultural and governance dimensions and that encourage integrated landscape management as a way of meeting the needs of multiple stakeholders and implementing national land-use strategies and commitments. 

FAO is implementing a process with a range of stakeholders at different levels to bring together lessons and experiences from existing land evaluation and land-use planning tools and approaches and to identify the main gaps and opportunities.