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AN EXPANDED DEFINITION OF LAND AND LAND RESOURCES



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FAO land evaluation a-a1080e
40 2019 ND-CP 413905
AN EXPANDED DEFINITION OF LAND AND LAND RESOURCES
At one time it was a common practice to equate land with soil. One of the first points 
made in the 1976 FAO Framework for land evaluation was that land, regarded as a basis 
for agriculture and other rural land use activities, includes also the climate, vegetation, 
slope conditions, and other natural resources. Hence the Framework defined land as 
an area of the earth’s surface, the characteristics of which embrace all reasonably stable
or predictably cyclic, attributes of the biosphere vertically above and below this area, 
including those of the atmosphere, the soil and underlying geology, the hydrology, the 
plant and animal populations, and the results of past and present human activity, to the 
extent that these attributes exert a significant influence on present and future uses of 
the land by humans.
This view of land and land resources takes into account the physio-biotic and socio-
economic resources of the physical entity. The UN definition (UN 1995) places more 
explicit emphasis on environmental aspects. The UN defines land as a delineable area of 
the earth’s terrestrial surface, encompassing all attributes of the biosphere immediately 
above or below this surface including those of the near-surface climate, the soil and 
terrain forms, the surface hydrology (including shallow lakes, rivers, marshes and 
swamps), the near-surface sedimentary layers and associated groundwater reserve, 
the plant and animal populations, the human settlement pattern and physical results 
of past and present human activity (terracing, water storage or drainage structures, 
infrastructure, buildings, etc.).
According to Sombroek and Sims (1995), the above definition conforms to land 
system units, landscape-ecological units or ‘unités de terroir’, as building blocks of a 
catchment or a biome. This is distinct from the administrative unit of land (‘territoire’), 
which is intrinsically linked to an ownership or political unit, and may encompass a 
number of natural units or parts of them. The components of the natural land unit 
(e.g. physical, biotic, environmental, infrastructural, socio-economic) are termed land 
resources. Included in the land resources are surface and near-surface freshwater 
resources for reasons of management. Major freshwater bodies, underground geological 
resources and deeper geohydrological resources are excluded and considered a separate 
resource.

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