02 Contents Frame

Outline of a revised framework for land evaluation

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FAO land evaluation a-a1080e
40 2019 ND-CP 413905
5. Outline of a revised framework for land evaluation 
Preface 39
Chapter 1 – The need for revision 39
Chapter 2 – Historical development of land evaluation 39
Chapter 3 – Expansion of concepts and definitions 39
Chapter 4 – Land suitability classifications 39
Chapter 5 – Land evaluation procedures 39
References 40
Annexes 40
References 41
Annexes 61
Glossary 61
Data for land evaluation 69
Tools for land evaluation 75
Case studies 101

List of figures
1. Schematic representation of activities in a newly proposed outline
of land evaluation procedures 33

This report is the result of a long effort of the FAO Land and Water Division, initiated by 
Wim Sombroek and Parviz Koohafkan, to update the Framework for Land Evaluation. 
Several drafts of the report were prepared by Ms Anne Gobin and Ms Nathalie Cools, 
and reviewed by Anthony Young, Jules Pretty, Robert Brinkman, Rudi Dudal and 
Philippe Mahler, the latter providing the final text. Compiling this report was under the 
guidance of F. Nachtergaele of the FAO Land Tenure and Management Unit (NRLA).
The editing report benefited from Ms. L. Chalk who assisted in its final preparation.

The 70s saw the emergence of worldwide concerns for the capacity of the planet to 
feed its growing population while ensuring the conservation of its natural resources 
and the protection of the environment. As a global inventory of soil resources was 
being conducted under the auspices of FAO and UNESCO, an internationally accepted 
methodology was elaborated concurrently to assess the potentialities as well as the limits 
of the world’s land resources for development. The Land Evaluation Framework, which 
was issued by FAO in 1976, was not confined to the evaluation of land potentials for 
agriculture: alternative land uses such as forestry and nature conservation were also 
considered and the protection of the environment was included among the criteria used 
in the determination of the land suitability for a given use.
The need for a revision of the Land Evaluation Framework was not felt necessary 
for almost 30 years. The guidelines of the Framework were further developed in diverse 
publications for specific kinds of land uses such as irrigated agriculture, forestry, rain 
fed farming and applied in many countries without calling for significant changes in the 
overall methodology.
What changed during the last decades, however, was the scope and purpose of the 
land evaluations. Initially land evaluations were carried out mostly for land use planning 
and land development projects. In general, the purpose was to introduce major land 
use changes, both more profitable and better adapted to the land conditions, often 
involving investment and technical assistance from governments and other sources. 
Nowadays, the focus of land evaluation is mainly placed on solving technical as well 
as socio-economic and environmental problems in the use of lands which have been 
developed, are fully utilized already and often are overexploited and degraded. Land 
evaluations nowadays help solving conflicting demands on limited land resources. The 
solutions of these problems do not necessarily call for drastic changes in the existing 
kind of land use but more often for adjustments in the land management conditions 
and management practices and for land improvement or protection works. The solution 
of land use conflicts also call for more participation, mediation and arbitration efforts 
among the diverse parties concerned with land use.
As the purpose and scope of land evaluations shifted to a wider range of concerns, it is 
now felt necessary to include additional concepts, definitions, principles and procedures 
in the Framework so as to address them more systematically. In particular, the new 
concerns about the sustainability of land use should be addressed and their implications 
fully examined. The requirements for the protection of the environment, the economic 
viability of the land use over a longer term and the social acceptability of land use 
conditions necessitate more complex studies of the land resources, of the land uses, of 
their interactions and of their environment. Above all, they call for the involvement, not 
only of more specialists and of all the land users, actual or potential, but also of all the 
other stakeholders in the land use, and this in the whole process of land evaluation.
A revision of the 1976 Land Evaluation Framework thus becomes “a tall order” 
requiring wide consultations and thorough discussions. The present document attempts 
to cover all what this revision might entail and encompass, including new advances made 
in several areas. At this stage, its aim is that of a discussion paper to raise awareness 
and interest in a number of aspects which are relevant to the subject. Wide-ranging 
discussions should decide what should be ultimately retained in a revised general 
framework and what could possibly be left to other activities, upstream or downstream 

of land evaluation or conducted in parallel or even elaborated in land evaluation 
guidelines for specific purposes.

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