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Land Quality Indicators

C. Pieri, J. Dumanski, A. Hamblin, A. Young
Published 1995 · Geography

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Maintenance of the productive potential of land resources, and checking of land degradation, is a fundamental element of sustainable land use. For this to be achieved, there is a fundamental need for indicators of land quality, the condition or 'health' of land. Land quality indicators are similar to the economic and social indicators already in use. It is only by means of indicators that changes in land quality can be monitored and policy or management action taken. A global coalition of international and national institutions, led by the World Bank, FAO, UNEP and UNDP, are developing a system of land quality indicators for this purpose, concentrating in the first instance on productive agro-ecosystems. A conceptual framework for land quality indicators is set out. The pressure-state-response framework, previously developed as a basis for environmental indicators of pollution, provides a means by which land quality can be related to policy and management. Land quality indicators are therefore of three kinds: indicators of pressure upon land resources, of changes in the state of land quality, and of responses by society to these changes. Indicators can be assessed within the context of major land issues; these comprise inappropriate land use systems, land degradation, and inadequacies in the policy environment for land users. Land quality indicators can be applied at different scales: farm, local, district, national and international. The present effort is focused upon indicators for application at district (project) and national/international scales. Indicators have particular applications first, in development projects, both sectoral and in the area of natural resources management; secondly, with respect to the effects of national policies on land quality; and thirdly, for determination of policy priorities at international level. Two groups of examples of land quality indicators are given. The first is based on results from two regional workshops, aimed at identifying key land issues and appropriate indicators for some major agro-ecological zones of the tropics and subtropics. The second group sets out pressure, state and response indicators applicable to major problems of land degradation. Sources of data and information of indicators are reviewed. There is considerable scope for making use of existing data sources, appropriately combined and standardized as indicators. There are also substantial data gaps, notably in the areas of monitoring soil changes and the effects of land management practices. In addition to databases, use can be made of modelling, and of the local knowledge of farmers. A programme of work is outlined for the development of cost-effective ways of obtaining internationally-agreed sets of land quality indicators. Pilot studies in major agro-ecological zones will form an important element. Because of the urgency of the situation, initial activities will be based on making best use of existing methods and sources of data. This will show where gaps in knowledge exist, and work can then progress towards the collection of new. information. (Resume d'auteur)
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