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Step 3. Analyse the problems

After the previous focus on discussion, terms of reference and preparation, Step 3 is the first to involve the detailed technical aspects of land-use planning. It is a big step. First, the existing land-use situation has to be analysed and compared with the development goals; to do this requires the identification of land units and land-use systems. Next, problems with the present land use must be identified, including their nature and severity. Finally, the causes of these problems must be analysed.

The existing situation

In Step 1, some basic facts about the area were assembled. Now it is necessary to gather information on the existing situation in much more detail, to provide the factual basis for all subsequent steps, up to implementation. Much of this information should be shown on maps.

Assuming that data on the administrative structure, legal framework and interested organizations has been gathered in Step 1, the information now needed includes:

Population. Analyse the numbers, age and sex structure, population trends and distribution. Plot these data - towns, villages and dispersed rural settlements - on the base map.

Land resources. Obtain, compile or, where necessary, survey land resource data relevant to the planning task. This may include landforms, climate, agroclimatic regions, soils, vegetation, pasture resources, forests and wildlife. (See Natural resource surveys, p. 78.)

Employment and income. Summarize data by area, age, social and ethnic groups.

Present land use. Existing information will often be out of date or unreliable. Make an up-to-date land-use map. This is an essential basis for planning changes.

Production and trends. Tabulate production data; graph production trends and economic projections for the planning period. This information should be as quantitative as possible.

Infrastructure. Plot roads, market and service centres on the base map.

Most of this information will be obtained from existing sources, supplemented by field reconnaissance to check how up to date and reliable these are. Gaps of importance may need filling in by methods of rapid rural appraisal, remote sensing and field surveys as well as talking with people who know the area, e.g. agricultural or forestry extension staff.

Land units and land-use systems. To analyse the present situation it will be necessary to break the area down into land units, areas that are relatively homogeneous with respect to climate, landforms, soils and vegetation. Each land unit presents similar problems and opportunities and will respond in similar ways to management.

Appropriate land units at the national level might be agroclimatic regions; at the district level, land systems; and, at the local level, land facets, soil series or other soil mapping units.

The next step is to identify the more common land-use systems, areas with similar land use and economy. These may be farming systems or systems based on forestry, etc. Land-use systems are frequently defined in terms of dominant crops, e.g. a maize/tobacco system. Other common criteria for differentiating land-use systems within a land unit are large and small farms or those with and without livestock.

One practical difficulty is that neither land units nor land-use systems will correspond to the administrative units for which economic and population data are usually available and by which many planning decisions are taken. There is no easy solution: planners have to work simultaneously with land units, land-use systems and administrative units.

Plate 3: A village meeting. Meetings in the field with representatives of those involved help the planner see problems from the people's point of view. They also alert the people to the fact that changes are being considered. Farmers and other land users should be consulted and their views obtained from the earliest stages of plan preparation right through to its implementation - without their willing acceptance and help, no plan can succeed.

Land-use problems: symptoms and causes

Migration to towns
Low rural incomes
Lack of employment opportunities
Poor health and nutrition
Inadequate subsistence production
Shortage of fuel and timber
Shortage of grazing land
Low, unreliable crop yields
Desertion of farmland
Encroachment on forest and wildlife reserves
Conflicts among farming, livestock and non-agricultural uses
Visible land degradation, e.g. eroded cropland, silted bottomlands, degradation of woodland, salinity in irrigation schemes, flooding

Social problems
Population pressure on land resources
Unequal distribution of land, capital and opportunities
Restrictions of land tenure and landownership
Natural hazards and limitations
Inadequate water supply and distribution
Irregular relief
Drought-prone soils
Poor drainage
Mismatch between land use and land suitability
Inadequate water control
Clearance of forest on steeplands
Inadequate soil conservation practices
Inadequate periods of bush fallow
Related rural planning problems
Inadequate power
Lack of fertilizer and pesticides
Lack of markets, unsatisfactory price structure
Lack of finance
Inadequate transport
Lack of technical support

Problems of land use

To define a problem it is necessary to establish the present situation, judge ways in which it is unsatisfactory and identify ways in which it might be made better.

Apart from when planning new settlements on unoccupied land, this stage of diagnosis of problems is of the highest importance. Without identifying problems and analysing their causes, one is in no position to plan for improving the situation. Three closely related methods, any of which can be used at this stage, are farming systems analysis, diagnosis and design and rapid rural appraisal (see Rural land-use analysis, p. 79).

The fundamental field survey method may be summarized as:

• talk to the people;
• look at the land.

"People" include the farmers and other land users, local leaders, extension staff and agencies active in the area. Where time allows, a set of interviews should be conducted with farmers sampled from each land-use system. Table 2 gives some examples of problems of land-use systems. Identify which are considered to be the most important - by the farmers, by local agencies and by the planning team.

At the same time, diagnose the causes of the problems identified. For example, a fodder shortage may be caused by cultivation encroaching on former grazing land, coupled with a lack of rotational grazing and/or control of livestock numbers on the latter. The effects may be indirect: a labour shortage on farms at a critical period might be made worse by the fact that women have to travel long distances to collect fuelwood or water.

Field observation is complementary to interviews. Ask to be shown around farms and travel about the area. This will reveal physical problems such as soil erosion, overgrazing and forest degradation.

Taking present land use as the basis, ask:

• How is the land managed now?

• What will happen if the present management continues unchanged?

• Why is it the way it is? Is it the best available system of land use or is it followed because of tradition, insufficient labour, lack of capital, a need for staple food, a need for cash, a need for time for communal activities and leisure, a desire to retain landownership, a lack of skill or technical knowledge or poor planning?

Group together issues that seem to be related. Try to distinguish between symptoms and underlying causes. For example, the direct cause of a food shortage may be declining yields; these result from cultivation without fallow which, in turn, is caused by a land shortage coupled with increasing population.

Plate 4: A fuelwood shortage: a simplified example of a problem statement

The problem. A severe fuelwood shortage affects small farms in this land unit. Women spend many hours each day gathering and carrying wood. Surveys show a one-third decrease in tree cover over the past five years.
Causes. The shortage has developed as a result of greater demand, caused by increased population and leading to prolonged cutting of natural woodland. There is no extension programme to tell people about growing trees.
Opportunities for change. There are two opportunities to improve this situation: i) the establishment of fuelwood plantations, managed by the local community, on lower slopes of adjacent hills; ii) growing trees on farms, using agroforestry technologies such as boundary planting.

Figure 7. A simple cause-and-effect model of a land-use situation, identifying points where intervention may be possible

Problems can sometimes be modelled. Models may range from cause-and-effect linkages (Fig. 7) to quantitative simulations or economic models. Models help to show linkages in the land-use system and may help to identify possible opportunities for change (see Modelling, p. 79 and Systems analysis, p. 77).

Separate problems that can be tackled by local land-use planning from those that are beyond its scope. For example, it is no use encouraging production of a bulky export crop if there is no road to the coast.

Problem statements

This stage can be summarized by a set of problem statements which, for each problem, give:

• its nature and severity with respect to land units and land-use systems;
• its short-term and long-term effects;
• a summary of its causes: physical, economic and social.

Step 3

Responsibility: planning team

• Collect data on the existing situation; where possible, compile maps:

- population;
- land resources;
- employment and income;
- present land use;
- production and trends;
- infrastructure.

Sources: maps, satellite imagery, air photographs, censuses, departmental records. Check in the field whether the sources are reliable and up to date.

• Identify and map:

- land units;
- land-use systems.

• Identify problems of land use:

- nature and severity, land units and land-use systems affected;
- analysis of causes.

Methods: interviews with land users, local leaders, extension staff, agencies; field reconnaissance.

• Prepare problem statements.

Step 4. Identify opportunities for change

Now that the problems needing attention are known, the next step is to consider what can be done to solve or ameliorate them. This requires interaction between the planning team, which devises and presents its alternative opportunities for change, the land users, who comment on these opportunities and may offer their own solutions and the decision-makers, who choose which alternatives are to be analysed further.

Seek a variety of solutions in the first instance, then select those that seem most promising. All reasonable solutions should be considered in Step 4 because it becomes increasingly difficult to follow new directions as planning progresses. It is important for the land users, planners and decision-makers to reach a consensus about what the priorities are, and this entails both public involvement and wide-ranging executive discussion.

Box 7
Identification of options for solving a problem

Existing situation: chronic food shortage, accelerating degradation of grazing land.

Specification for improved land use: increase rural income, arrest land degradation.


• Non-land-use planning options -emigration or, in the long term, birth control.

• Do-nothing policy, which means accelerating land degradation and increasing dependence on food aid; therefore rejected.

• A sustainable increase in production might be achieved by:

- the control of stock numbers combined with rotational grazing, allowing herbage to recover;

- a combination of controlled grazing and improved forage production by top-dressing, reseeding and physical soil conservation measures to increase infiltration of rainfall;

- the supplementary feeding of stock during critical periods, using either imported forage or conserved forage grown locally with the use of irrigation.

• These options merely control the livestock problem. Some alternatives are needed that will alleviate the shortage of food and fuel. Therefore, consider:

- the diversification of land use by combining livestock, crops and possibly fuelwood production by agroforestry, for example.

For any of these options to be implemented, there must be a reform of land tenure and grazing rights that is acceptable to the community as a whole.

* The land-use situation (problem) is illustrated in Figure 7.


Planning involves seeking and appraising opportunities for closing the gap between the present situation and the goals. Opportunities are presented by untapped human and land resources, new technology and economic or political circumstances.

The people present opportunities in the form of labour, skills and culture and, not least, the ability to adjust to change and to survive adversity. Cooperation at the local level may be promoted by encouraging the participation of land-use groups in the planning process and through buyer and producer organizations.

The land may have underdeveloped regions or unexploited resources such as water power, economic minerals or scenery and wildlife. The location of the planning area may give it a strategic advantage for trade or defence. The land nearly always has the potential for greater or more diverse production, given investment in management.

New crops and land uses may be available. Circumstances may have changed so much, e.g. through population growth, that it is no longer possible to solve problems by improving the existing land use. A completely new use may be necessary, e.g. irrigation.

Improved technology can transform the productive potential of the land - for example fertilizers, pesticides, improved drainage or irrigation practices, new ways to store or process products, improved crop and livestock varieties. Research and extension services play key roles in developing, adapting and introducing new technology.

Economic opportunities include new sources of capital, new or improved markets, changes to the price structure, the improvement of transport and communications. Often, the application of improved technology to land is rendered difficult or impossible by the relative prices of inputs and products.

Government action may create opportunities, for example by the reform of land tenure and administrative structure and through policies of taxation, pricing, subsidies and investment.

At this stage, the opportunities considered need not be specified in great detail but should be wide-ranging to include all possibilities that appear realistic (a process sometimes called "brainstorming").

Options for change

There is usually more than one way to tackle a problem. Alternatives may be needed to give due attention to the interests of competing groups and serve as a starting point for negotiations. The plan that is finally accepted may include aspects of more than one option.

The options developed in this step will depend on the goals, the strategy pursued to reach these goals, opportunities and problems presented by the people and the land and the finance and other resources available. For example, problems of food production will demand agricultural or economic action; opportunities for tourism will depend on ways of attracting and accommodating tourists.

Options can be described in terms of ways and means:

Non-land-use planning options. In the example illustrated by Figure 7, population policy and food aid are beyond the scope of land-use planning.

Allocations of land use. Land-use types are allocated to specific areas of land; for example, irrigated farming to bottomlands, forestry to steep slopes and stream reservations. This option is widely applied in new settlement schemes but is more difficult to apply where land is already occupied.

New land uses. A complete change is made by introducing new kinds of land use not previously practiced in the area, for example irrigation.

Improvements to land-use types. Improvements are made to existing farming systems or other land-use types in order to make them more productive or sustainable. The improvements must be brought about through extension services, often combined with improved infrastructure and services (e.g. supplies of inputs). This option follows directly from the analysis of problems. It is one of the principal means of bringing about change in areas that have already been settled.

Standards. Standards may consist of planning guidelines or limits. For example, conservation standards might specify "no cultivation within 40 m of streams or on slopes greater than 12"; limits to safeguard life and property might specify "no housing or industrial development in designated flood hazard or landslide zones". Standards of this kind, however, are hard to enforce, unless the problems that have led to their being broken are addressed.

Other standards refer to land management, for example standards for terrace construction, fertilization or land drainage. Interest rates on loans for farm improvement may be limited, to 5 percent for instance. For subsequent land evaluation, these management standards are built into the defined land-use types.


There is no fixed procedure for selection of alternatives for change. Some courses of action will be suggested by farmers, others by extension staff or people with an interest in the area, while the planners may develop still others from the information obtained in Step 3. What is essential is to keep all interested people informed and seek their views. Some guidelines are as follows:

Focus on questions regarding what action can be taken within the plan. Some decisions may have been made already at a higher level of planning. For example, it may have been decided at the national level to build a road through the planning area. The choice to be made locally is the route, based on how it will best serve the existing or planned settlements.

Consider alternative land-use strategies. None of the following strategies are likely to be followed alone. They represent extremes to be used as a basis for an analysis and comparison of different courses of action.

- No change. Continue the present systems of land use. Since there are problems, this is unlikely to be adopted, but examination of its consequences is useful to see if suggested improvements are any better.

- Maximum production. This may be for all products, for selected products (e.g. food crops), for maximum financial benefit or to support the greatest number of people on the land.

- Minimum public investment. To bring about improvements which benefit the people while making the lowest demands on scarce investment funds.

- Maximum conservation. Maximum production in the short term may lead to accelerating erosion or pollution. The alternative of maximum conservation may be costly or may imply a lower level of production.

- Maximum equity. A deliberate attempt to give added benefits to poorer sections of the community or to minority groups.

Identify a range of possible solutions. Options may be built around various themes. The planner must find the theme that is most relevant to the goals and the planning area. Again, a compromise between extremes will be necessary.

- Types of production. Which type of production should be encouraged: commercial, subsistence or a combination of the two? How should land and resources be allocated between the different kinds of production?

- Production or conservation? A trade-off between these alternatives is often necessary in the short term. Standards, and hence allocation of land to different uses, may differ between these alternatives. For example, the maximum slope angle of cultivated land may be 20 in the "production" alternative and 8 in the "conservation" alternative.

- Self-reliance or outside investment? An alternative favouring self-reliance would be based on traditional crops, intermediate technology and local credit. An alternative requiring outside assistance might introduce more sophisticated technology, perhaps new crops and outside finance.

Identify a wide range of possible solutions that meet each of the demands in the planning area. For example, if a shortage of fuelwood is a problem, then all the land not already cultivated could be put into fuelwood plantations, even though much of the area is grazed and there is also a shortage of pasture. Alternatively, fuel could be imported, if this is feasible, without planning for any change in fuelwood production.

Develop options within the extremes. Develop options that have a realistic chance of being implemented. Moderate the maximum range of options by social imperatives, budgetary and administrative constraints, the demands of competing land uses and an initial assessment of land suitability. Thus, the planner addressing the fuelwood and grazing problems might develop three options: to allocate 20 percent of the area to fuelwood plantations, retain 30 percent of the area in grazing and import fuel to meet the continuing but reduced need; to meet the fuelwood demand by having 30 percent of the area under plantations, with a reduction in pasture; or the same as the second option, but with a parallel extension effort in intensive livestock production to compensate for the reduction in grazing area.

Compatible land uses can be combined to satisfy a number of demands. For example, multiple forest management methods can be developed that combine elements of wood production, watershed protection, wildlife and recreation. Agroforestry technologies exist that permit the production of fuelwood or fodder with food crops on the same land, or that combine soil conservation with production.

At the end of Step 4, promising land-use types have been identified and specified in terms of what they have to achieve, for example "integrated arable and livestock farming to increase livestock production and stabilize soil loss". At this stage, however, information about the requirements and potential of these land-use types is very incomplete. Results from Steps 5 and 6 may show that promising options are not viable, thereby making it necessary to reconsider the alternatives in Step 4.

Public and executive discussion of problems and alternatives

A further stage of responsibility now lies with the decision-makers. The planning team prepares the problem statements (from Step 3) and the alternatives for change in terms that are suitable for public and executive discussion: clear, brief summaries, but with detailed evidence available for scrutiny. The alternatives are presented to representatives of the local people, government officials and other interested agencies.

A basic decision is whether, in the light of work to date, the original goals still appear to be attainable. Assuming this to be so, two choices must now be made: which problems are to be given priority and which are the most promising alternatives for further study. Finally, the decision-maker can draw attention to action needed at other levels of land-use planning (e.g. at the national level, arising from a district-level plan) and action desirable outside the scope of land-use planning.

Following these decisions, targets for this subsequent work must be specified. A partial reiteration of Step 2 may now be necessary, planning subsequent steps more specifically than before. If necessary, an additional or revised budget and time schedule must be prepared.

Step 4

Responsibility: planning team

• Based on the goals from Step I and problem statements from Step 3, isolate problems for which solutions other than land-use planning must be sought.

Generate a range of options for solving each problem, in terms of:

- opportunities: the people, land resources, improved technology, economic measures, government action;

-land-use strategies: no change, maximum production, minimum investment, maximum conservation, maximum equity;

- kinds of production, the role of conservation, self-reliance versus external investment.

• Develop realistic options that best meet the needs of production, conservation and sustainability and that minimize conflicts of land use.

• Prepare outline budgets and time frames for each option.

• Present the problem statements (from Step 3) and the alternatives for change in terms suitable for public and executive discussion.

Responsibility: decision-makers

• Decide if the goals are attainable.

• Select the priority problems.

• Choose the most promising alternatives for a feasibility study; specify targets.

• Specify action needed at other levels of planning.

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