June 2007  -  Announcement of a publication

Land evaluation

Towards a revised framework

Land and Water Discussion Paper 6

The 1970s saw the emergence of worldwide concerns for the capacity of the planet to feed its growing population while ensuring the conservation of its natural resources and the protection of the environment. As a global inventory of soil resources was being conducted under the auspices of FAO and UNESCO, an internationally accepted methodology was elaborated concurrently to assess the potentialities as well as the limits of the world’s land resources for development. The Land Evaluation Framework, which was issued by FAO in 1976, was not confined to the evaluation of land potentials for agriculture: alternative land uses such as forestry and nature conservation were also considered and the protection of the environment was included among the criteria used in the determination of the land suitability for a given use.

The need for a revision of the Land Evaluation Framework was not felt necessary for almost 30 years. The guidelines of the Framework were further developed in diverse publications for specific kinds of land uses such as irrigated agriculture, forestry, rain fed farming and applied in many countries without calling for significant changes in the overall methodology.

What changed during the last decades, however, was the scope and purpose of the land evaluations. Initially land evaluations were carried out mostly for land use planning and land development projects. In general, the purpose was to introduce major land use changes, both more profitable and better adapted to the land conditions, often involving investment and technical assistance from governments and other sources. Nowadays, the focus of land evaluation is mainly placed on solving technical as well as socio-economic and environmental problems in the use of lands which have been developed, are fully utilized already and often are overexploited and degraded. Land evaluations nowadays help solving conflicting demands on limited land resources. The solutions of these problems do not necessarily call for drastic changes in the existing kind of land use but more often for adjustments in the land management conditions and management practices and for land improvement or protection works. The solution of land use conflicts also call for more participation, mediation and arbitration efforts among the diverse parties concerned with land use.

As the purpose and scope of land evaluations shifted to a wider range of concerns, it is now felt necessary to include additional concepts, definitions, principles and procedures in the Framework so as to address them more systematically. In particular, the new concerns about the sustainability of land use should be addressed and their implications fully examined. The requirements for the protection of the environment, the economic viability of the land use over a longer term and the social acceptability of land use conditions necessitate more complex studies of the land resources, of the land uses, of their interactions and of their environment. Above all, they call for the involvement, not only of more specialists and of all the land users, actual or potential, but also of all the other stakeholders in the land use, and this in the whole process of land evaluation. A revision of the 1976 Land Evaluation Framework thus becomes “a tall order” requiring wide consultations and thorough discussions. The present document attempts to cover all what this revision might entail and encompass, including new advances made in several areas. At this stage, its aim is that of a discussion paper to raise awareness and interest in a number of aspects which are relevant to the subject. Wide-ranging discussions should decide what should be ultimately retained in a revised general framework and what could possibly be left to other activities, upstream or downstream of land evaluation or conducted in parallel or even elaborated in land evaluation guidelines for specific purposes.

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© FAO, 2007