Land & Water

Land-resource planning key to feeding growing world, preserving resources

One-third of planet’s land is degraded, hitting food production and damaging livelihoods

Ordos, China, 6 September 2017 – Land-resource planning is crucial to restore the one third of land already degraded and prevent further degradation, but existing and new tools should be more widely used to help agriculture feed growing populations, according to new FAO research.

Land resource planning for sustainable land management, released during the 13th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, found yawning gaps in knowledge around land-resource planning (LRP) – which means decision-makers are not sufficiently informed on effective ways to support sustainable development.

To address this situation, FAO has also developed the LRP Toolbox, an online, searchable database that contains valuable information on the available tools, their objectives, target groups, case studies and much more.

“Degradation reduces or removes the ability of land to produce food, provide livelihoods, and offer other ecosystem goods and services,” said Feras Ziadat, Land Resources Officer at FAO. “Land-resource planning is a vital part of integrated strategies to ensure smart resource use to sustain and enhance productivity and maintain resilient ecosystems.”

According to 2017 figures from FAO, 49 percent more food than in 2012 must be produced worldwide by 2050 as populations grow and diets change, but land degradation – from unsustainable land management, climate change and other man-made and natural causes – is threatening this goal.

The Status of the World’s Soil Resources report published by FAO reported that 33 percent of global soils are degraded. Soil erosion in 2012 was estimated at 35.9 billion tonnes per year, equivalent to 2.9 Mg per hectare. Soil erosion is a main factor in the loss of fertile soils.

The degradation of the world’s soils also has climate implications, with the degraded lands having released roughly 78 Gt of carbon into the atmosphere.

However, the world can achieve Land Degradation Neutrality – as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal target 15.3 – and boost goals on food, water security, and climate change by protecting what it has and rehabilitating degraded land.

FAO supports countries to build comprehensive strategies to ensure that the land is fertile enough to meet the world’s nutritional needs. These strategies for sustainable food and agriculture follow the five interconnected principles of improving resource-use efficiency, natural resource conservation, improving rural livelihoods, enhancing resilience, and good governance

Land resource planning (LRP), which forms part of these strategies, systematically assesses land potential and land-use alternatives to achieve optimal use and improved socio-economic conditions through a process that involves all interested parties at all levels.

A global survey of 747 respondents found limited availability and knowledge of tools and information for decision-makers. Meanwhile, the tools themselves have not kept pace with new challenges and increased pressure on land and water resources.

The research finds that the needs of decision-makers to address the challenges and drivers of change, and promote effective and sustainable responses, calls for an updated set of tools and approaches for participatory LRP. 

Such tools should consider biophysical, economic, socio-cultural, and governance dimensions, and promote integrated landscape management (LM) to satisfy the needs of multiple stakeholders and implement diverse national strategies and commitments. 

The research recommends a consultation process to further identify gaps and opportunities, leading to a strategy for the development, testing, and validation of updated LRP tools in pilot countries at all scales, from local to national and transboundary.

Updated tools should:

  • Go beyond agricultural uses to include all sectors, focus on evaluating the range of ecosystem services generated, and involve environmental accounting and land valuation;
  • Use modern techniques such as remote sensing, precision farming, modelling, apps, and geographic information systems;
  • Develop an informal system for matching sustainable land management technologies and land-use systems – building on the work of Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA) and the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT);
  • Keep people at the centre of the process by adopting negotiated processes based on the needs of the various users, and considering power dynamics, competing demands on resources and ecosystems, the land potential and the socio-economic context;
  • Be designed to provide information at the scale at which it is needed. 

“This research shows that we have been under using a vital approach to sustainable land management,” Ziadat said. “But it also can serve to kick-start the global community into improving and implementing land-resource planning for the benefit of all humanity.”

Visit the new Land Resources Planning Toolbox >>

Download the FAO Working paper on Land Resource Planning for SLM >>