Policy and integrated management Environment

Posted July 1996

Report of the Workshop on Land Quality Indicators for Sustainable Resource Management

Rome 25 - 26 January 1996
FAO, Rome

by J. R. Benites, FAO/AGLS and J.B. Tschirley, FAO/SDRN


A workshop on Land Quality Indicators for Sustainable Resource Management held in FAO Headquarters, Rome was attended by FAO technical staff and invited participants from the World Bank, UNEP, ISRIC, Agriculture Canada, and private consultants. The workshop was provided a technical forum to discuss issues relating to land quality indicators (LQIs) and their use by planners and policymakers. LQIs can be used at the national and district levels to assess the qualities of land, in monitoring its changing conditions, and in formulating policies and development programmes that take into account land quality issues.

Progress was made toward preparing a workplan for an LQI Programme including country case studies, development of a meta-database, research topics, location and funding of the LQI Secretariat, financing, institutional contacts, membership in the Core Advisory Committee and follow up activities.


There is much concern that land quality is changing, but there is not much formal monitoring of what is changing, in what direction or at what rate. Perceived improvements in land quality attributable to development programmes and projects are provided more by guesswork and wishful thinking than by the use of indicators or the results of planned monitoring.

Discussions in FAO and numerous international fora have contributed to the on-going debate on indicators of sustainable development. Due in part to the range of interest and disciplines involved, there is not yet a consensus on the specific features of sustainability indicators or their strengths and weaknesses. How indicators are used can help to identify important problems and successes or may lead to confusion or misinterpretation.

FAO already plays an important role in collating information related to LQI's but an important emerging challenge is to improve the quality of existing data, identify what additional data are needed, geographically reference FAO data, and especially, to develop linkages between the natural resources, social and economic dimensions.

The workshop


The specific workshop aims were to:


The participants represented eight FAO Divisions (AGL, SDR, SDA, AGA, AGP, ESA, FIR and FOR as well as the World Bank, UNEP, ISRIC, Agriculture Canada, and some private consultants.


The workshop used formal lectures, discussion sessions and presentation of case studies to cover about 16 subjects in 3 sessions:

An external facilitator guided the discussions.

Workshop results

Major issues related to measuring land quality

The workshop concluded that different indicators are needed to track changes in each of the land's main components (and their subdivisions) and that the data and information needs are so diverse, ranging from farmers to politicians, that a single, core set of indicators is probably not possible to develop over the short-term.

Some generic indicators were presented in the framework of an integrated, holistic approach to land use decisions and management, the changes in important biophysical and socio- economic attributes of land units that must be monitored, especially for:

Different levels of planning and programming need to be distinguished. For farm-level change, detailed information is best achieved from observations and records from single farms. One needs also to find out over what area and on what percentage of farms similar results are to be found. The lower the level the more detailed the indicators become.

The amount of detail which needs to be recorded increases as one moves along the sequence of questions:

  1. Is any change occurring, and in what direction - positive or negative?
  2. What is changing?
  3. How great is the change?
  4. How rapidly is it occurring?
  5. What processes of change are in motion?
  6. Why have these processes of change been set in motion?

The Pressure - State - Response framework (PSR) was generally accepted, but questions were raised about it limitations in terms of cause / effect relationships, feedback loops, and ability to address biophysical, social and economic issues in a holistic manner. The importance of PSR being issue-driven and not indicator-driven, was underlined.

The time aspect was also raised, especially change and trend analysis as being more useful than static, assessment-types of information. For time-to-time comparisons, the same individuals / groups / farms / sites should be usedto provide directly comparable time-series of data.

Integration of different indicators within FAO aimed at measuring sustainability. AEZ approach has been endorsed, expand it to larger scale including socio-economic layer and the respective information.

A number of open issues and problems to be solved included with respect to:

Data and information sources required to develop indicators

It is important that the information contained in them is interpreted adequately and communicated effectively and quickly in a manner which can be easily understood. The task of monitoring staff therefore includes:

Valuable data may be rendered useless if they are not analyzed and turned into comprehensible information. On the other hand, an excess of analysis using statistical techniques misapplied to data that do not fulfill statistical requirements may result in presentation of results with spurious reliability and coefficients that the user does not understand.

Testing and application of LQIs in countries

Field projects are one way to gain experience and test methods that can improve the measurement of changes in land qualities but many countries are also capable (and it is indeed highly desirable) of carrying out their own LQI programmes and some guidelines are needed which could address:

Improvement of the AEZ: formulation of work plan

One session was held to discuss options and prepare a short term workplan for the LQI Programme. During this meeting the following items were discussed: location and funding of the LQI Secretariat, main institutional contacts for the LQI Programme and suggestion for membership in the Core Advisory Committee. The following proposals have been submitted for funding:

Other support might be possible from Norway (NORAG for South America), Denmark, Germany (GTZ), the Swiss Government, Australia (AIDAB) and USAID. Inquiries would also be made with the Rockefeller and Ford foundations.

FAO (AGL) agreed to pursue the following areas of work to assist in development of LQIs:

Workshop follow-up

It was recommended that a transitional period of about 12 months be used to launch the LQI programme. During this time the World Bank would play a key role in bringing together the technical groups and organizations, and seek funding. During the first quarter of 1997 the Secretariat would be transferred to FAO-Rome. The model used by the TAC Secretariat of the CGIAR was considered appropriate to the LQI initiative in terms of providing a rapid response and access to high-quality personnel.

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