Unlocking the sustainable potential of land resources evaluation systems, strategies and tools

TitleUnlocking the sustainable potential of land resources evaluation systems, strategies and tools
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsHerrick JE, Arnalds O., Bestelmeyer BT, Brignezu S., Han G., Johnson M-VV, Montanarella L., Pengue W., Toth G.
Number of Pages89 pp.
PublisherUnited Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
ARIS Log Number319510

Better matching of land use with its sustainable potential is a “no-regrets” strategy for sustainably increasing agricultural production on existing land, targeting restoration efforts to where they are likely to be most successful, and guiding biodiversity conservation initiatives. Land potential is defined as the inherent, long-term potential of the land to sustainably generate ecosystem services. This report provides an introduction to land potential evaluation systems, strategies and tools necessary to implement this strategy. It provides information that both private landowners and policymakers can use to increase long-term productivity and profitability, while at the same time addressing global objectives defined through land-related Sustainable Development Goals, and particularly 15.3 (land degradation neutrality). The focus of the report is on the inherent long-term (decades) potential of the land to sustainably generate ecosystem services, based on soils, topography and climate. In general, land that can sustainably support higher levels of vegetation production, including crop, forage and tree, has higher potential. Short-term land potential (1-5 years) depends on a combination of long-term potential, weather, and the current condition of the land (e.g. fertility, compaction, current vegetation cover). Matching land use with its potential determines whether the inherent long-term potential is sustainably realized. Sustainability depends on (1) potential degradation resistance, and (2) potential resilience, which is the capacity to recover from degradation. Land with similar potential should therefore respond similarly to management. Policymakers have a tremendous number of opportunities to leverage land evaluations to both increase returns on investments, while minimizing risks of catastrophic failures, such as Britain’s post-world war II peanut scheme in Tanzania, and the United States Dust Bowl, which resulted from an ill-informed agricultural expansion in the early part of the 20th century. Policy options for applying land evaluation include, but are not limited to (1). setting realistic, practical targets for land degradation neutrality, (2). general land use planning to decide which lands should be reserved for agricultural production and biodiversity conservation, (3). agricultural land use planning to sustainably increase food security and the profitability of the farming sector, (4). land reform and redistribution to ensure that (a) objectives for equitability are met and (b) tract sizes meet requirements for minimum economic production units, and (c) providing new landowners with appropriate information on the best available management practices specific to their land, (5). designing incentive and other programs to minimize degradation risk, and (6). optimizing climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives by effectively targeting resources to where the greatest returns on investments are likely to occur. The report provides an overview of existing land evaluation systems, options for making them more useful by integrating resilience, and for applying land evaluation to policy.