Geospatial information for sustainable food systems

Land Cover and Land Use

Land cover is defined as the observed physical cover on the earth’s surface, including vegetation (natural or planted) and human constructions. Land use is  characterized by the arrangements, activities and inputs people undertake in a certain land cover type to produce, change, or maintain it. Definition of land use in this way establishes a direct link between land cover and the actions of people in their environment.

Land cover is significant within the United Nations (UN) framework as it influences sustainable development, climate change, biodiversity conservation, food security, and disaster risk reduction. The UN recognizes land cover as one of the 14th fundamental data theme layers as it shapes ecosystems, impacting human and natural systems. Sustainable land management and conservation of terrestrial ecosystems are crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Mapping land cover allows for assessment and monitoring of terrestrial ecosystems and changes within them, which are crucial to the sustainable management of natural resources, environmental protection, food security, disaster risk reduction and humanitarian programs.

The Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) is involved in developing and enhancing all aspects of land cover and its applications. The Geospatial Unit in Land and Water Division leads the Land Cover Land Use International Standard development process along with the International Standard Organization (ISO) through ISO TC211 AG13 on land cover land use

The AG 13 is established to advise ISO/TC 211 on the application and implementation of the ISO/TC 211 standards on Land Cover Land Use in the United Nations and other transnational organizations and to reach out to the context of broader UN initiatives for this purpose.

FAO offers land cover services at global, regional, and national levels following international standards and using the latest state of art technology innovation. This includes: land cover legend registry, land cover ontology and classification systems, essential to consistency across systems and disciplines for sharing; development of methodologies for operational rapid assessment of land cover and its changes at national, regional and global scale; and helping member countries to meet their need for up-to-date, consistent and detailed land cover and land use information.