SLM can be defined as “the use of land resources, including soils, water, animals and plants, for the production of goods to meet changing human needs, while simultaneously ensuring the long-term productive potential of these resources and the maintenance of their environmental functions” (UN Earth Summit, 1992).
TerrAfrica (2005) has further defined sustainable land management as “the adoption of land use systems that, through appropriate management practices, enables land users to maximize the economic and social benefits from the land while maintaining or enhancing the ecological support functions of the land resources”.
Sustainable Land Management (SLM) is crucial to minimizing land degradation, rehabilitating degraded areas and ensuring the optimal use of land resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
SLM is based on four common principles:
• land-user-driven and participatory approaches;
• integrated use of natural resources at ecosystem and farming systems levels;
• multilevel and multistakeholder involvement; and
• targeted policy and institutional support, including development of incentive mechanisms for SLM adoption and income generation at the local level.
Its application requires collaboration and partnership at all levels – land users, technical experts and policy-makers – to ensure that the causes of the degradation and corrective measures are properly identified, and that the policy and regulatory environment enables the adoption of the most appropriate management measures.
SLM is considered an imperative for sustainable development and plays a key role in harmonizing the complementary, yet historically conflicting goals of production and environment. Thus one of the most important aspects of SLM is this critical merger of agriculture and environment through twin objectives: i) maintaining long term productivity of the ecosystem functions (land, water, biodiversity) and ii) increasing productivity (quality, quantity and diversity) of goods and services, and particularly safe and healthy food.
To operationalize the sustained combination of these twin SLM objectives, it is essential to understand drivers and causes of land degradation and to take into account issues of current and emerging risks.
SLM encompasses other established approaches such as soil and water conservation, natural resources management, integrated ecosystem management and involves an holistic approach to achieving productive and healthy ecosystems by integrating social, economic, physical and biological needs and values.
It contributes to sustainable and rural development and requires great attention in national, subnational and community level programmes and invetsments.
Thus it needs an understanding of:
• the natural resource characteristics of individual ecosystems and ecosystem processes (climate, soils, water, plants and animals);
• the socio-economic and cultural characteristics of those who live in, and/or depend on the natural resources of, individual ecosystems (population, household composition, cultural beliefs, livelihood strategies, income, education levels etc);
• the environmental functions and services provided by healthy ecosystems (watershed protection, maintenance of soil fertility, carbon sequestration, micro-climate amelioration, bio-diversity preservation etc); and
• the myriad of constraints to, and opportunities for, the sustainable utilisation of an ecosystem’s natural resources to meet peoples’ welfare and economic needs (e.g. for food, water, fuel, shelter, medicine, income, recreation).
SLM recognizes that people (the human resources) and the natural resources on which they depend, directly or indirectly, are inextricably linked. Rather than treating each in isolation, all ecosystem elements are considered together, in order to obtain multiple ecological and socio-economic benefits
FAO supports member countries on a wide range of complementary SLM technologies and approaches, through training, information, communications, tools and equipment, advisory services for institutional strengthening, policy reforms and national programming.
FAO has introduced and promotes a range of SLM programmes and approaches, such as farmer field schools, conservation agriculture, catchment and farming systems approaches to integrated land and water management and better land husbandry, gestion des terroirs and local land planning, integrated plant and pest management (IPPM) and sustainable forest management.
FAO is also executing a number of projects, funded by GEF, that address transboundary land degradation issues, including: Integrated Management of the Fouta Djallon Highlands (led by FAO Forestry Department), GIAHS projects ( all led by Land and Water Division), Transboundary Agro-ecosystem Management Programme for the Kagera Basin, and Using Farmer Field School Approaches to Overcome Land Degradation in Agropastoral Areas of Eastern Kenya.