02 Contents Frame

Chapter 1 The need for revision

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FAO land evaluation a-a1080e
40 2019 ND-CP 413905
Chapter 1
The need for revision
The resources of the developing world were systematically mapped in the nineteen-
fifties to the seventies, the era of reconnaissance land resources surveys. The need 
arose for means to interpret these surveys in terms of land use potential. By 1970 many 
countries had developed their own systems of land evaluation. This made exchange 
of information difficult, and there was a clear need for international consultation to 
achieve some form of standardization. Two conferences and a review paper led to the 
development of the FAO Framework for land evaluation.
The Framework for land evaluation (FAO 1976), a compact account of only 72 
pages, has proved to be one of the most durable and widely used FAO methodologies 
in the area of land resources and agricultural development. Over more than a quarter 
of a century it has been implemented in many countries of the developing world, 
including Bangladesh (Brammer et al., 1988), Jamaica (FAO/UNEP 1994), Malaysia 
(Biot et al., 1984), Kenya (Fischer and Antoine 1994), Nigeria (Hill 1979, Veldkamp 
1979), Sri Lanka (Dent and Ridgway 1986) and Thailand (Shrestha et al., 1995). 
The principles set out in the Framework have been amplified in guidelines on land 
evaluation for rainfed agriculture, forestry, irrigated agriculture, extensive grazing 
(FAO 1983, 1984, 1985, 1991), and for the special conditions encountered in hill and 
mountain areas (Siderius 1986).
The Framework was a pioneering document in the now widely recognized concept 
of sustainability. One of its six basic principles was that land suitability refers to use on 
a sustained basis, so the aspect of environmental degradation was taken into account 
when assessing suitability. 
Land evaluation supports many other disciplines. It may be used for many purposes, 
ranging from land use planning to exploring the potential for specific land uses or the 
need for improved land management or land degradation control.
The primary objective of land evaluation is the improved and sustainable management 
of land for the benefit of the people. The aims of land evaluation as given in the original 
Framework remain wholly valid; where these refer to the identification of adverse 
effects and benefits of land uses, there is now greater emphasis on environmental 
consequences and on wider benefits and environmental and ecosystem services. 
Land evaluation is primarily the analysis of data about the land –its soils, climate, 
vegetation, etc.– in terms of realistic alternatives for improving the use of that land. It 
is true that uses which are socially or economically unrealistic, for example large-scale 
mechanized agriculture in areas already densely settled, are excluded at an early stage, 
and left out of the analysis. Nevertheless, land evaluation is focused upon the land 
itself, its properties, functions and potential.
However, in contrast to the 1950s and 60s, when land settlement schemes were 
common, most current rural development is directed at areas where the people face 
economic and social problems, in particular hunger and poverty. Developments 
projects, whether through international aid or by national governments, are directed 
at alleviating such problems. There is a clear focus upon the people, the farmers and 
rural communities. 

Land evaluation – towards a revised framework
It might therefore appear that land evaluation would be out of touch with the ‘people 
first’ view. This is not, and has never been, the case. The Framework did not claim to 
provide the whole answer to rural development, but only to supply an important 
component, and this remains the case. There is a danger that the current focus on 
participation may lead to a neglect of the physical limitations of soil, climate, etc., that 
constrain rural land use. Land evaluation provides this vital element, helping to avoid 
the costly mistakes that have resulted from investment in forms of land development 
unsuited to local environmental conditions.
Land evaluation, even in the expanded form proposed by this document, by no 
means amounts to the whole process of rural land development. It is a contributory 
element, linking various kinds of natural resource survey (soil survey, agro-climatic 
analysis, water resources appraisal, etc.) with technological aspects (agronomy, 
forestry, etc.) and with economic and social analysis. There is a particular need for land 
evaluation wherever the problems of farmers are caused or compounded by problems 
of the land, e.g. soil fertility decline, erosion, increased frequency of droughts due to 
climatic change.

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