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Chapter 4: Some important issues to be resolved through an integrated approach

Issues in the rural sphere
Issues in the pert-urban and coastal sphere
Issues in the international sphere

Issues in the rural sphere

Recuperation of degraded marginal lands versus conservation and improvement of prime agricultural land

Land, in the holistic sense as described above, is not a fully "renewable" resource; in many ways it is finite. Components of the land may degrade in their intrinsic quality, or direct economic value, by direct or indirect human action or natural processes such as climate variability. Degradation of one component, such as through deforestation, may negatively influence one or more of the other components such as soil, water flow or microclimate.

Degradation of soil conditions is probably the most widespread and pernicious form of deterioration, because it affects a major life-supporting system and because its natural recuperation may take centuries. Artificial soil rehabilitation or amelioration is often very expensive. If seriously degraded soils are located in zones of marginal climatic conditions or other low-potential areas, it may instead be preferable to conserve and improve areas of prime agricultural land through judicious intensification. This is valid where such lands are available and accessible to the country. For social reasons, however, such as keeping already-settled population groups on marginal land, this alternative may not be a feasible option.

It should be mentioned that increased rural population in marginal areas does not necessarily lead to land degradation so long as improved technologies and policies are introduced (see Box 7). If basic production facilities and primary education, availability of rural credit for integrated soil-water-nutrient conservation, plus access to a nearby market for agricultural produce are improved, then higher population densities may naturally lead to intensified land use in a sustainable form (Tiffin et al., 1994).

Protection of ecological values versus the need for food and other produce

Especially since UNCED, there is worldwide concern for the dwindling areas occupied by natural vegetation, and a positive reappraisal of their intrinsic values as sources and sinks of greenhouse gases, for biodiversity as in situ gene banks, for catchment protection, and as regulators of local climatic conditions.

On the other hand, there is the need for provision of an adequate quantity and quality of food, fodder, big-fuel, fibres and timber for a rapidly increasing human population, especially in developing countries. This requires a policy to stimulate extra produce to ensure food security. If food self-sufficiency is not possible then there may be the need for the generation of cash from land-based export commodities so that food can be acquired from elsewhere. This in turn may entail the clearing of natural vegetation, drainage of wetlands, intensification of grazing, etc.

BOX 7. Land degradation versus sustainable land use in developing countries

A case in point is the drainage of wetlands for food production in resource-poor countries with high population pressures such as Rwanda, as opposed to their conservation as areas of high biodiversity value and large fish-stocks. It implies the need to assess whether such wetlands are all of different kinds, or have basically the same characteristics. In the latter case a number of individual wetland areas can be changed into agricultural land without impinging upon essential biodiversity values.

Governments in general, and in particular those developing countries that are signatories to the various UNCED initiatives - Framework Convention on Biodiversity; Framework Convention on Climate Change; Convention on Desertification Control; Declaration on Forest Principles - will soon be confronted with decisions to be made. These include the demarcation and control of nature reserves, buffer zones and corridors against the needs for extra agricultural land. Unless carefully handled, the resolution of such land use issues will cause conflict at policy and strategy levels. The prior application of systematic land use planning procedures that are presented here will greatly assist decision-makers in resolving potential conflicts of interest.

Smallholder settlement versus large-scale mechanized farming

High-level policy decisions may be needed to stimulate smallholder settlements with individual title deeds, especially in those developing countries with a rapid rate of population increase and a basically rural economy. This will be despite the recognition that such policies may not result in maximum sustainable productivity of the land, because of low external input conditions.

If acute food deficiencies loom, and when there is still a reserve of non-allocated land, then one may want to stimulate or allow large-scale farming which maximizes production through the fullest use of inputs such as machinery, fertilizers, irrigation, etc., though it has a low labour intensity per unit of land. The latter would, however, generate or strengthen an already existing trend of the movement of rural population from the land to urban centres, with bidonvilles (peri-urban shanty towns) and social unrest as likely consequences. A move to large-scale farming also implies a hidden impoverishment of biodiversity values on land that is to be put to such a use, with the loss of land races and traditional cultivars, and the impoverishment of soil flora, fauna and organic matter.

In developed countries with low population growth, the tendency to move from small-scale to large-scale farming is an automatic trend. It creates possibilities for sizeable areas of "set-aside lands" that in due course may develop into valuable semi-natural conservation areas. In such situations, special attention may be given to the creation of connective space (linkage corridors) between discrete areas of semi-natural ecosystems systems, including inland aquatic spaces linking stretches of open water and woodlands linked by hedgerows, to ensure free movement of flora and fauna and thereby avoid loss of their habitat (Ministry of Agriculture, Netherlands, 1990).

Small island states have specific problems (FAO, 1994). Land and water scarcity may be particularly acute, and in some cases likely to be aggravated by a surmised future sea level rise because of global climatic change. The trade-off between local food-sufficiency and tourist development should also here be of prime consideration when an integrated land use planning process is underway.

Forestry and silviculture versus animal husbandry and fisheries versus arable cropping and integrated uses of the land

Within the broad category of "agricultural land", policy decisions will have to be made about the allocation or reallocation of land between possible uses and users, and about the practicalities of implementation through focused subsidies, etc. In the past, many "land capability" assessments had an in-built bias towards arable cropping, rainfed or irrigated. Grazing-based animal husbandry was accorded second place, forestry development, the creation of conservation areas and national parks were placed low in priority ratings, and inland fisheries were often disregarded completely.

This cropping-centred approach is particularly being challenged by the forestry sector; The value of trees is being reassessed, whether in the form of planted forests, woodlots/strips and individual trees in farming land as a big-fuel supply, regulators of the water supply and flow in catchment areas, erosion control measures, sinks of atmospheric carbon (in the biomass and in the soil) or an improvement of soil fertility (N fixation; deep nutrient cycling).

In many countries the forestry sector has traditionally developed in isolation, and has been seen as encroaching upon crop and animal production, and vice versa. There is a definite need to integrate forestry development in closer association with crop and animal husbandry, and especially in ecologically-fragile regions. Areas where integration can be effectively pursued are in the maintenance of a mosaic of endemic vegetation reserves across a country, the development of farmers timber supplies through woodlots on pasture lands, the maintenance of scattered individual trees of- known usefulness in cropland, tree-lining and hedging of field boundaries for the protection of biodiversity and for the attenuation of adverse weather conditions.

Animal protein production by grazing or the use of fodder may be of lower human nutritive value per land unit in densely populated areas, or those with high population growth, than plant protein production. A consequential changeover in dietary habits may, however, meet with strong social resistance in countries with a long tradition of meat-based consumption patterns, such as in many parts of South America. In the drier parts of Africa and the Near East, cattle herders have traditional rights to the use of the land resources, partly as a dry season transhumance activity. With an increasingly settled farming population, and the confining of herdsmen within national territories, this system may break down with adverse social consequences, unless integrated land use planning procedures are implemented.

The value of inland fisheries as protein suppliers, whether on natural lakes or rivers, or through on-farm water storage with aquaculture, has to be reassessed as well.

Combinations of forestry, animal husbandry, arable cropping and aquaculture, on individual farms as agroforestry and agro-silvi-pastoral practices, can have a synergistic effect on the productivity of the land and its resilience to degradation.

The use of water for irrigated cropping of annuals or perennials may constitute a maximum utilization of that particular "land" resource for increasing food production and other byproducts, especially in areas with insufficient or uncertain rainfall conditions. However, irrigation requires large investments, may result in forced social changes, especially when large schemes are involved, and may cause degradation of the land through salinization and waterlogging. Long established indigenous irrigation practices have been proven to be efficient, such as those found in the Asian wet-foot rice-growing schemes.

The relative impact of the various forms of agricultural production on the emission of greenhouse gases will have to be taken into account. This is because of current intergovernmental negotiations on climate change control, involving country-level methane emissions by ruminant animals and wet-foot crops in comparison to such emissions in natural wetlands and by wildlife, and involving emissions of nitrous oxide by nitrogenous fertilizer use or biomass burning in rangelands. In this context it is noted that the capacity of well-managed rangelands and pastures to conserve soil organic matter and to fix carbon from the atmosphere is higher than that of mechanically-tilled arable land.

The trade-offs of each of the above agricultural practices can only be objectively assessed through an integrated approach to land use planning.

Rights of indigenous groups versus the need for resettlement of excess population from elsewhere in the country

The rights of indigenous groups, such as the remaining Amerindians, to exclusive occupation and management of their traditional lands have been given scant attention in the past. This situation is changing for the better, largely through activities of a number of NGOs, but at the same time it may create a problem. Any settlement on such lands of large numbers of people from over-exploited areas elsewhere in a country, carrying with them land use practices that may not be suitable for the new region, complicates the issue. This is a social and ethical problem rather than a macro-economic one and may give rise to serious civil strife, with environmental degradation as an added complication. It can be anticipated and managed through participatory approaches to land use negotiations at the local level that are most appropriate to the needs of the indigenous groups of people.

Issues in the pert-urban and coastal sphere

Prime agricultural land versus urbanization

Many urban settlements arose in the past on prime agricultural land, when the subsistence needs of urban dwellers had to be met from locally-obtained food supplies. With the continuing advancement of further urbanization, especially in developing countries, such valuable agricultural land as remains is being used for buildings, industry, transport facilities including airports, recreational parks, etc.

Especially when such prime land is scarce within a country, a government may need to develop policies to safeguard it for intensive cropping, and to stimulate pert-urban agriculture by needy people, especially women. Treatment of waste and sewage sludge for its reuse to maintain and improve the fertility of such agricultural land should be an essential policy element of central or local government authorities. They should also take into account the detrimental effects on the quality of agricultural land of air-borne and water-borne pollution as the result of urbanization, industrial development and processing of mining ore, fossil fuel and primary agricultural produce. A legal and economic framework is needed to establish which persons or entities are responsible for cleaning up such pollution. Such a framework can be one of the products of an integrated approach to pert-urban land use planning.

Irrigation development versus apportioning of water resources for urban settlement and industrial developments

Urban settlements and associated industrial enterprises need large and reliable supplies of fresh water, for direct consumption as drinking water, for commercial purposes and sanitation, and to generate hydropower. In the latter case reservoir and spillway water can still be used for irrigation development, but the optimum size and siting of a dam for hydropower purposes may be different if the water is to be stored primarily for agricultural purposes, and with regard to the commendability of irrigable lands, or to the avoidance of the flooding of valuable rainfed agricultural land or natural ecosystems that would be taken up by the reservoir.

Conversely, urban water requirements may be put in jeopardy by the needs of rural areas upstream. Takeoff of surface or groundwater resources for rural agricultural uses, with their potential for pollution of the resulting drainage water and effluent, may harm any urban drinking water supplies that are dependent on them unless adequate wastewater treatment is first ensured. A modus vivendi between the two conflicting uses has to be reached, through an integrated and participatory approach (see Chapter 18A of Agenda 21, "Integrated water resources development and management" for details).

Disposal versus reuse of urban waste in pert-urban and rural areas

Many larger towns and cities, especially those in coastal zones, dispose of their solid and liquid waste and storm water directly into lakes, river estuaries or the sea - often with detrimental environmental effects on coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs, mangroves or tidal flats.

Both the water and the plant nutrient resources contained in these urban wastes can be used, after appropriate treatment, to water and fertilize neighbouring rural and pert-urban agricultural land. In the latter areas, in particular, they could help the poor in urban fringes to maintain a living by food production and the sale of fruit and vegetables to urban dwellers.

The extra cost of waste processing for reuse will have to be compared with the benefits of improvement of agricultural lands and the safeguarding of environmental values downstream through an integrated approach (see Agenda 21, Chapters 7 and 18 for details).

Coastal zones planning

Traditional resource-based activities, such as coastal fisheries and aquaculture, forestry and agriculture, are frequently found side-by-side in coastal areas with activities such as industry, tourism, minerals extraction and shipping. These different activities are frequently in competition for scarce coastal resources, particularly land and water. In addition, due to their proximity, growth or intensification, one or more of these activities may have impacts on others. The economic opportunities frequently offered by coastal areas present many of them with high population growth rates and consequent increasing demands for employment, housing and services. As well as their key economic role, coastal areas are also important ecologically, providing a number of environmental goods and services. Coastal ecosystems are also important for the mitigation of the effects of natural disasters and play an essential role in natural processes such as land accretion and countering of coastal erosion.

Many tropical coastal plains and river deltas contain significant proportions of actually or potentially acid sulphate soils. Where there are sizeable and expanding human populations dependent on the land in the neighbourhood, these areas are under considerable social and economic pressures to be reclaimed and developed. Careful decisions need to be taken as to how best each area of acid sulphate soils should be used or conserved.

Mangrove forests are under pressure to be exploited for their wood resources and for the land beneath them that can also be drained and reclaimed for development from the sea. They extend along many reaches of less active tropical coastlines, providing protection from marine erosion for the coasts behind and valuable habitats for the wide variety of fisheries, birds and aquatic resources that live within them. Brackish water aquaculture and small-scale fisheries in these mangrove environments, and in lagoons and estuaries, are of considerable economic importance and also need to be considered. Levels of sustainable uses of mangroves are required to be devised, as part of management guidelines within integrated planning strategies for coastal zones that contain them.

Changing land uses immediately behind coasts can also impact on the coastal and marine resources. Deforestation and unprotected soil cultivation on coastal plains and hills lead to eroded material silting rivers and being deposited in estuaries and on coral reefs offshore. Removal of sand near river mouths for construction can alter the flow patterns of the water downstream and consequent longshore drift of material. Urban expansion on coastlines can use valuable freshwater that formerly flushed out brackish water lagoons, and can replace it with untreated wastewater and sewage. Physical infrastructures built as coastal protection schemes can transfer erosion and deposition to unprotected areas. The whole zone can be subject to a wide variety of overlapping legislation and under the responsibilities of different agencies that operate in isolation from each other.

The common occurrence of trans-sectoral impacts in coastal areas and the multi-faceted aspects of coastal management issues mean that the conventional sectoral planning approach is inadequate by itself. It has to be replaced by an holistic approach to management in which linkages between sectors are understood, the need for trade-offs is recognized, benefits and costs of different development options are critically assessed, appropriate management interventions are identified and implemented, and the necessary institutional and organizational arrangements are devised and put in place. This is the essence of integrated coastal zone management.

Issues in the international sphere

Capital investment in infrastructure versus capital investment in land quality improvement

Many loans from national and international development banks are earmarked for improving the physical infrastructure of a country, with the anticipation in part that they will lead to sustainable agricultural and rural development through a trickle-down process. This approach is in contrast with the bottom-up long-term capital investment policy that aims to improve the inherent qualities of agricultural lands in general and soil qualities in particular; a policy that is gaining sympathy in World Bank circles.

Implementation of such a policy would entail the conscious enlargement, in a fully participatory approach with the agricultural communities concerned, of the stock of soil organic matter, the use of rock-phosphates and lime to overcome the large phosphorous fixation/occlusion and high aluminium content of many tropical soils, and the use of mineral and organic fertilizers to build up chemical soil fertility - all for the benefit of an inter-generational sustainable use of the land by a growing rural population.

Primary agricultural production versus big-industrial processing

At present, many developing countries export primary agricultural produce, including cassava, soybeans, chincona, palm oil, latex, cocoa butter, coconuts and raw timber, to developed countries. There it is processed for ready food, finished products or as feed for stall-fed cattle, pigs, chickens, etc.

The latter use in particular creates problems at both ends of the marketing chain: through the production of excess big-industrial waste in the processing country, including excess manure, and through the depletion of major soil nutrients in the developing country together with the impoverishment of soil-biological life in general. A conscious effort to redress this situation, and international agreements on trade and subsidies, will be needed, taking into account the social implications for the rural populations in both developing and developed countries.

For example, it has been estimated that eighty percent of the land used to grow the crops used by the Dutch agricultural processing industry, the second largest in the world in terms of exports, is actually outside Holland. Such agro-industrial countries have the moral responsibility to assist in the good husbandry of the land from which the primary produce is derived, and in the gradual transfer of processing facilities to those developing countries whenever feasible.

Production of medicinal or addicting drugs versus local food production

A number of medicinal drugs such as kinin are traditionally grown in developing countries for the international market. They provide cash for the primary growers, enabling them to acquire food and other essential supplies in the local markets. Their replacement with artificial medicinal products may cause disruptions to the existing land use patterns and fragile environments on which they depend.

A special, multifaceted problem requiring international cooperation is the control or eradication of the production, refining and illegal trafficking of highly priced drugs for psychic stimulation and addiction, and their replacement by beneficial agricultural land uses. These drugs are often grown on small plots in fragile lands on mountain slopes and in tropical forests. Any replacement food production in the same areas, usually involving much larger tracts of land, is often economically non-viable and can be environmentally damaging. Special national and international incentives are then needed to ensure the sustainability of alternative land uses at the site, and to stimulate agricultural expansion elsewhere in the country where it is needed and feasible.

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