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FAO land evaluation a-a1080e
40 2019 ND-CP 413905
Executive summary
Land evaluation is a vital link in the chain leading to sustainable management of 
land resources. There is a perceived need to update the FAO 1976 Framework for 
Land Evaluation to reflect current concerns related to climate change, biodiversity 
and desertification. The goods and services of the land that are related to its multiple 
functions or benefits as well as the sustainability of its use need to be addressed. New 
tools to conduct land evaluation have become available and the need for a participatory 
approach has been recognized (Chapter 1).
Before the Framework, the USDA Land Capability Classification was the most 
widely known land evaluation system. It was essentially a grading of agricultural land 
that only took economics into consideration as a background. The need arose for land 
suitability assessment for specified kinds of land use. This formed the first principle of 
the Framework. Other principles were that (ii) the evaluation requires a comparison 
of the benefits obtained and the inputs needed on different types of land; (iii) the 
evaluation process requires a multi-disciplinary approach; (iv) it should be in terms 
of the biophysical, economic, social and political context of the area concerned; (v) 
suitability refers to use on a sustained basis and (vi) evaluation involves comparison of 
more than a single kind of use (Chapter 2).
Many concepts and definitions of the original Framework remain valid; others 
evolved and new concepts arose over the past 25–30 years. The UN definition of 
land (UN 1995) also highlights the environmental aspects. Land fulfils a multitude of 
functions simultaneously: functions related to biomass production, to the environment, 
to human settlement and economy. Many physical, socio-economic or political factors 
may limit the functions of the land. The challenge is to link the environmental concerns 
and issues of sustainable livelihood to the basic concepts of the FAO 1976 Framework 
(Chapter 3).
Notwithstanding the development of new technologies and environmental and socio-
economic concerns, the basis of the six original principles still remains valid. Although 
the UN definition of land (1995) reflects the latest developments, the land suitability 
concept has remained unchanged. Issues of biodiversity, global change, agro-ecosystem 
functions, stakeholder participation and agro-environmental monitoring need to be 
integrated into an updated land evaluation framework. An extended definition of land 
evaluation should cover evaluation of not only goods but also services of the land. 
The following set of principles is suggested as a basis for a revised framework. 
Principles iii, iv and vi are retained with minor modifications; principles i, ii and v are 
expanded; and two new principles are added: one on the stakeholders and one on the 
multi-scale approach. 
Land suitability should be assessed and classified with respect to specified kinds 
of land use and services; 
ii. Land evaluation requires a comparison of benefits obtained and the inputs needed 
on different types of land to assess the productive potential, environmental 
services and sustainable livelihood; 
iii. Land evaluation requires a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach; 
iv. Land evaluation should take into account the biophysical, economic, social and 
political context as well as the environmental concerns; 
v. Suitability refers to use or services on a sustained basis; sustainability should 
incorporate productivity, social equity and environmental concerns; 
vi. Land evaluation involves a comparison of more than one kind of use or service; 

vii. Land evaluation needs to consider all stakeholders; and 
viii. The scale and the level of decision-making should be clearly defined prior to the 
land evaluation process.
The general outline of the procedures for land evaluation in the Framework (FAO 
1976) remains valid, but experience has shown the need for greater flexibility in the 
application of procedures. In the past, the Framework outline could be strictly followed 
in, say, reconnaissance assessment of where new crops can be grown. But for practical 
land use planning and development purposes, flexibility of aims, inputs, procedures and 
outputs will be needed. Environmental services rendered by the land need to be brought 
in, although economic evaluation of these is difficult. Consultation with stakeholders 
–farmers and other land users as well as all interested institutions– needs to be combined 
with the standard approach comparing requirements of the use or service with properties 
of the land. A new procedure is suggested, with the inclusion of new activities and paths. 
The emphasis is on the integration of local knowledge into the existing framework and 
on the participation of all stakeholders. The stakeholders should be involved from the 
beginning to the end of the land evaluation process. The existing framework is extended 
with socio-economic procedures developed in the diagnosis and design framework. 
Links with other research domains are made explicit in the revised framework; for 
example, with research activities related to agronomy and with a biophysical research 
programme including specialized studies (Chapter 4).
Chapter 5 is a draft outline of the revised framework for land evaluation. Annex 1 
provides a glossary of terms used in this document. Annex 2 discusses the kinds of data 
needed and lists information on relevant data sources. Annex 3 presents a summary 
of tools that may be used in or for a land evaluation following a revised Framework. 
Several of these tools are illustrated in a series of case studies summarized or annotated 
in Annex 4. Any specific tool or method may or may not be optimal or applicable in 
a given environment or socio-economic or cultural context, or at a different scale of 

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