Land evaluation is formally defined as 'the assessment of land performance when used for a specified purpose, involving the execution and interpretation of surveys and studies of land forms, soils, vegetation, climate and other aspects of land in order to identify and make a comparison of promising kinds of land use in terms applicable to the objectives of the evaluation' (FAO, 1976).
Conceptually, land evaluation requires matching of the ecological and management requirements of relevant kinds of land use with land qualities , whilst taking local economic and social conditions into account. Land evaluation provides practical answers to such questions as
• What other uses of land are physically possible and economically and socially relevant?
• What inputs are necessary to bring about a desired level of production?
• What are the current land uses and what are the consequences if current management practices stay the same?
Depending on the questions that need to be answered, land evaluation can be carried out at different scales (e.g. local, national regional and even global) and with different levels of quantification (i.e. qualitative vs quantitative). Studies at the national scale may be useful in setting national priorities for development, whereas those targeted at the local level are useful for selecting specific projects for implementation. Land evaluation is applicable both in areas where there is strong competition between existing land uses in highly populated zones as well as in zones that are largely undeveloped.
Land evaluation is often carried out in response to recognition of a need for changes in the way in which land is currently being used. The information and recommendations from land evaluation represent only one of multiple inputs into the land use planning process, which often follows land evaluation. In turn, the land use planning process can serve to screen preliminary land use options that should be considered for land evaluation. The two processes are therefore interlinked.
The FAO land-evaluation approach additionally takes into account specific crops and aspects related to land-management and socio-economic setting. The approach has been applied extensively in projects backstopped by FAO in various countries in different parts of the world for over thirty years.
Principles of the FAO revised framework for land evaluation:
i. Land suitability should be assessed and classified with respect to specified kinds of land use and services;
ii. Land evaluation requires a comparison of benefits obtained and the inputs needed on different types of land to assess the productive potential, environmental services and sustainable livelihood;
iii. Land evaluation requires a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach;
iv. Land evaluation should take into account the biophysical, economic, social and political context as well as the environmental concerns;
v. Suitability refers to use or services on a sustained basis; sustainability should incorporate productivity, social equity and environmental concerns;
vi. Land evaluation involves a comparison of more than one kind of use or service;
vii. Land evaluation needs to consider all stakeholders; and
viii. The scale and the level of decision-making should be clearly defined prior to the land evaluation process.
FAO publications on Land Evaluation
Land evaluation. Towards a revised framework. Land and Water Discussion Paper 6
An overview of land evaluation and land use planning at FAO
Land evaluation for extensive grazing. FAO Soils Bulletin 58
Land evaluation for development
The role of legislation in land use planning for developing countries. FAO Legislative Study No. 31. Rome, FAO. 160 pp.
Land evaluation for irrigated agriculture. FAO Soils Bulletin 55 .
Land evaluation for forestry. FAO Forestry Paper 48
Land evaluation for rainfed agriculture. FAO Soils Bulletin 52
A framework for land evaluation. FAO Soils Bulletin 32