Land Resources

Land Policy and Planning

Land policy aims to achieve certain objectives relating to the security and distribution of land rights, land use and land management, and access to land, including the forms of tenure under which it is held. A land-use policy is essentially an expression of the government's perception of the direction to be taken on major issues related to land use and the proposed allocation of the national land resources over a fixed period of time. It has a production and a conservation component. A sound national land-use policy is effectively part of the enabling environment and should cover all uses of land. To achieve the policy objective of sustainable production and conservation of natural resources, governments should pursue strategies which actively promote forms of land use which are both attractive to the people and sustainable in terms of their impacts on land resources. By developing the national land-use policies through a participatory, integrated and iterative process, there is a much greater likelihood of achieving this.

In 1992, Agenda 21 recognized the need for integrated planning and management of land resources, stating that it 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). Land use planning is even more crucial today, with growing pressures from climate change, urbanization and biofuels. Much high potential land is being lost to settlements; land which previously grew food crops is being planted with feedstocks for biofuels rather than food; climate change is limiting arable cropping in drylands, reducing productivity of rangelands and increasing sea levels, creating problems in coastal areas.

In 1997, the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), in a special session convened to assess progress towards sustainable development (Earth Summit + 5), reiterated the needs and recommended that, at the international level, priority should go to developing and disseminating a new approach to land resources conservation and development. It specified that this approach should create social, economic and legal conditions that encourage sustainable development, meet the information needs of governments and land users, and involve all relevant institutions. This is in accordance with FAO's responsibility as Task Manager for Chapter 10 of Agenda 21, which resulted from UNCED. During the recent sessions of CSD, a major attention was placed on Agricultural land, CSD-16 (2008) which focused on technical review and CSD -17 (2009) which focused on policy implications.

Land degraded by industry and urbanization The world's forest resources continue to be lost or degraded at an alarmingly high rate. Population growth Sugar cane in Afghanistan

Every year 19.5 million hectares of agricultural land is converted to spreading urban centres and industrial developments, often forcing farmers onto shrinking and more marginal lands. The uncontrolled expansion of human settlements constitutes a challenge for sustainable land planning and management. Particularly the concentration of people and cities in coastal areas increases the demand for limited land resources. Coastal areas are among the most crowded regions in the world. Demands on land resources and the risks to sustainability are likely to intensify.

Population growth, economic development and urbanization are driving demands for food, water, energy and raw materials; the continued shift in human diet from cereal to animal products, requiring a higher input in land and water resources, and the recent move towards biofuels add to the demand for farm production, all of this with implications for land uses. 

As for any form of agriculture, expanded biofuel production may threaten land and water resources as well as biodiversity, and appropriate policy measures are required to minimize possible negative effects. The impacts will vary across feedstocks and locations and will depend on cultivation practices and whether new land is converted for production of biofuel feedstocks or other crops are displaced by biofuels. Expanded demand for agricultural commodities will exacerbate pressures on the natural resource base, especially if the demand is met through area expansion. On the other hand, the use of perennial feedstocks on marginal or degraded lands may offer promise for sustainable biofuel production, but the economic viability of such options may be a constraint at least in the short run.

Land-use (or Land Resources) Planning

Land-use (or Land Resources) Planning is a systematic and iterative procedure carried out in order to create an enabling environment for sustainable development of land resources which meets people’s needs and demands. It assesses the physical, socio-economic, institutional and legal potentials and constraints with respect to an optimal and sustainable use of land resources, and empowers people to make decisions about how to allocate those resources.

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 improved, agreed 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.

Participatory and Negociated Territorial Development

The purpose of this approach is to define a process in which the analysis of local territorial issues, based on the viewpoints of the different actors and on an historical analysis, contribute to a coherent understanding of the territorial system. Furthermore, this approach is based on the idea that all identified territorial issues be placed on a negotiation table that will gather all the stakeholders in order to discuss area-related problems, with the aim of possibly collaborating in the formulation of a Social Territorial Agreement.

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