xiii 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
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
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;
xiv 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